This essay discusses about parenting and its effects on childhood obesity. Whether parents should be solely blamed for the outcome of an obese child. Modeling behaviour, dietary habits, parenting styles, parents beliefs and expectations were also discussed as the few factors which contributed to childhood obesity. This essay also discusses about the imbalance of energy input and output of children which also contributes to children¿½s obesity. Furthermore, ideas were given on the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity through healthy lifestyle changes.
Keywords: parenting, childhood obesity, dietary habits
Parents Should be Punished for their Children¿½s Obesity
Over the years, the definition of obesity has been continuously revised and altered. What we would define as obesity in this era could be very much different from how we would define obesity in the past. So it all comes down to one question, what is obesity? Many find this difficult to answer as there are numerous perspectives, some may base their definition on culture, whereas others may base it on science. However, there are a few definitions from various different aspects. According to Kretchmer (1988), obesity is defined as ¿½a complex biological situation and a prime example of a problem where there is a constant interaction of genetics and environment.¿½ Based on Kretchmer¿½s definition, he believes that it is pointless to argue on whether nature or nurture has a greater influence on the origination of obesity. On the other hand, from a nutritional and scientific point of view, a method known as the body mass index – weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared, defines whether an individual falls within the normal or obese range (Kretchmer, 1988).
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Based on the results from the 2009¿½2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an approximate of 16.9% of adolescents and children in the United States between the ages of 2-19 are obese (National Center for Health Statistics, 2012). The main question is how exactly do these young individuals end up being overweight and obese? Should they be fully responsible for their own physical well-being, or are there other factors that contribute to this epidemic. This essay will discuss on how parents become the main source of reason behind the childhood obesity outbreak, mainly focusing on their lifestyles which thus affects their children, as well as their beliefs, expectations, modeling behaviour and parenting styles. However, childhood obesity can also be caused by various other factors, ranging from dietary to sedentary lifestyles, which will also be discussed in this essay Majority of the time, a child¿½s parents are his/her primary caregiver, therefore they spend hours with their mother and father. This thus allows parents to be the number one most influential people in a child¿½s life, their presence could result in either promoting or impeding the child¿½s healthy lifestyle.Furthermore, parents equip their children with their food environment, model eating habits and control their children¿½s food intake.
According to Birch (1979), the child¿½s familiarity with food contributes to 25 to 50% of the changes in their dietary preferences. The familiarity with food was tested by Birch and Marlin (1982), whereby they introduced unusual fruits and cheeses to various children and found that there was a significant relationship between the amount of exposure and preference. This suggests that children would rather prefer foods that they are introduced to at home. McCarthy (1935) also discovered that children showed a distaste for foods that their parents have no liking for. This studies are also interrelated with the parents beliefs, as it contributes greatly in their children¿½s eating habits. For example, most parents have the belief that children disfavour skim milk, and that the temperature of the milk given would greatly affect consumption. However, studies done by Herbert-Jackson et al. (1977) proven otherwise, when children were given different milks with differing fat density at varying temperatures, they noted no differences in the consumption of the milk. Foman (1974), suggests that because some parents find skim milk distasteful, they presume that their children find skim milk distasteful too.
Likewise with salt and sugar that are added to baby foods, parents perceive that their taste preferences would be similar with their offsprings¿½. These studies thus shows that parents play a very important role in their children¿½s food environment. Although most children do not have a specific taste preference, due to their parents influence they consume much more salt, sugar and fats than what is nutritionally needed as they are affected by their parents¿½ taste preferences, this could thus result in an obese child.
Furthermore, the modeling of parents may act as an intermediary on how children develop their eating habits and activity levels. Harper and Sanders (1975) compared the impacts of persuading and modeling on children ranging between the ages of one to four. They discovered that children reproduced the adult model¿½s eating behaviour in 80% of the situations. However, when persuaded to eat, children would only reciprocate 48% of the time. Though prompts to eat does affectthe intake of foods, an adult model is even more a influentialstimulant. Therefore, this study shows that an adult model had a great impact on children. In this study, unidentified adult models were introduced to the children, yet the response of modeling behaviour was still high. Parents would consequently provide a much more greater influence considering how the children are constantly exposed to their parents¿½ presence.
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In addition, a review article done by Sleddens et al. (2011) investigated on general parenting and its impact on their children¿½s physical activity level, eating habits and weight status. According to Sleddens et al. (2011), it was found that variousstudies showed a significant relationship with general parenting. Parents who raise their children in a authoritative manner resulted in their children having high levels of physical activities, more healthy eating habits, and have lower BMI scores in contrast with other children who were raised in a different parenting style. According to Maccoby and Martin (1983), an authoritative parenting style is defined as a family setting whereby emotional support and warmth is conveyed, along with a comprehensible and clear-cut communication between the parents and the children. For that reason, parenting style plays a very important role on how it influences the health of the children.
Although there are many studies relating parenting with childhood obesity, it is however not the only factor that contributes to the obesity of children. According to Kutchman et al. (2009), they theorised that an imbalance in the child¿½s energy intake and energy output affects the weight of the child. Due to the sedentary lifestyles of young individuals in this era, they are more prone to be inactive despite consuming the same amount of foods as children did in the past. This is due to the increased usage of computer use (e.g. surfing the internet, social media websites ¿½ facebook, twitter), and increased television viewing time. There was a positive correlation found between obesity and global television viewing time (Robinson, 2001). A study done by Matheson et al. (2004), showed that children who watch television while eating resulted in the consumption of more calories in contrast with children who did not watch television while eating. According to Proctor et al. (2003), children who watched less than an hour and forty-five minutes of television per day had significantly lower levels of BMIs as compared to those children who watched television three hours or more. They also found that those children who watched large amounts of television during their early years had the most increase in body fat over an extended period of time (Proctor et al., 2003). This study thus demonstrates that the child¿½s level of physical activity is greatly affected by the level of computer usage and television viewing.
Although there are two sides to how a child¿½s obesity is affected, it all still points towards the direction on how the parents handle their children. As children are still not old enough to make such sensible decisions, parents thus play the larger role in disciplining and modeling healthy behaviours for their children (Bries & Gartin, 2006).
In conclusion, I believe that parents are to blame for their children¿½s obesity, however to punish them would not be as appropriate, but to educate them on leading a more active and healthy lifestyle would be more beneficial for both the parents and the children. Further directions includes research that should be conducted on the investigation of intervention studies that focus on the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity through general parenting (Gerards, 2011). Another area to consider would be to focus on creating awareness on childhood obesity, and how this epidemic has been increasing over the years. Parents along with schools should work together in battling this ever growing problem. Ultimately, they should encourage healthy lifestyle changes for not only the children, but with the parents as well because ¿½weight-loss among children and their parents have greater long-term success rates than programs focusing solely on child weight reduction¿½ (Larimore et al., 2005).