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Grandparents also important to children's weight
The obesity epidemic is not limited to Western countries; China's growing economic development has had its impact on that country's waistline, as well. Just as in Western countries, children who are overweight or obese in China are likely to become overweight or obese adults, with all the attendant health risks.

Kids' weight control a family affair
We know that overweight and obese children are much more likely than normal-weight children to grow up to be overweight and obese adults. Studies have found that when parents take sole responsibility for managing their children's weight, as opposed to expecting the child to make their own behavioral or lifestyle changes, it is half as likely that the child will continue to be overweight eight years later.

Do family meals affect family weight?
In the past thirty years or so we've seen fewer families eating dinner together regularly, and this has coincided with the increase in individual's waistlines. Plenty of studies have looked at the relationship between family meals and weight in children, but few have looked at the family unit as a whole or at the weight of the various family members - not just children.


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Parents: walk the walk

a family of two adults and two children seated at a table eating a meal

In the 1970's physicians finally committed to getting people to stop smoking, and it was effective because they themselves quit smoking. We also know that leading by example works with lifestyle advice: when we tell our patients about how we exercise and eat healthy, they're more likely to follow our advice (Arch Fam Med 2000; 9:287-290).

The same seems to be true for parenting, at least in terms of diet and exercise. In a study of 100 overweight teenagers, researchers found that the way their parents behaved had more influence on the teens' diet and exercise habits than what their parents said (Appetite 2016;96:47-55).

The participants were recruited from eight public schools in Poland. With their parents' permission, at the start of the study the study authors asked the students what they knew of their parents' diet and exercise habits, asking them if their parents ate enough fruits and vegetables, ate regular, healthy meals, and if they exercised regularly. The parents themselves were not interviewed - the researchers were only interested in what the students believed about their parents' behavior. The authors also asked if and how often the teens' parents told them to eat less or try to lose weight.

The teens were also asked how often, in the previous two weeks, they had exercised and how many portions of fruits and vegetables they had consumed.

The authors asked the same questions again two months later, and once again 13 months after that. At the start and end of the study the students' height and weight were measured.

Those students who reported that their parents ate better and exercised more frequently were more likely themselves to eat more healthfully and exercise - so much so that their Body Mass Index fell over the course of the study. What did not have an effect on the kids' behaviors, however, was parents' putting pressure on their kids to lose weight or eat less.

What this means for you

The authors note that this study has some limitations: all of the participants were white and the study only lasted 15 months in all. That said, it's still a good reason to maintain your own healthy lifestyle: by eating well and exercising, you're not only taking care of your own health, you're probably helping your kids do the same.

First posted: September 23, 2015