A study at the University of Illinois concluded that there may be a link between poor parenting and high childhood obesity risks. Researchers found what they call “insecure parents” as possibly being one of the main causes in increasing a child’s desire to consume junk food.
Lead author Kelly Bost said that being dismissive or distressed are the most common responses for insecure parents to the distress of their child. For example, if a child cried and demanded a toy at a store, a parent may angrily tell the child to stop acting like a baby or to just forget about it and then ignore the child after. This response was found to most commonly lead to comfort feeding or fewer family meal times to quiet their child or as a form of punishment. In turn, children would be fed fast food, salty snacks and given more TV time. All of these habits lead to the risk of developing childhood obesity.
This is opposed to when a child is raised by parents with a secure attachment. The child in this situation is described by the study as having protection instead of food in times of stress, along with having a relationship that provides happiness on a day to-day basis, and more security to explore and understand their environment.
Bost also emphasized how telling a child to clean the plate or take a few more bites so they can have dessert is the last message they want to send. Children can gauge for themselves if they are full and should only eat when they are hungry. Giving a child more freedom is said to also encourage that child to respond to cues internally and promotes not eating to relieve stress, thus helping to reduce the risk of obesity.
This Illinois study is important because of the increase in childhood obesity in America. Time reports that a quarter of two to five-year-olds across the nation are overweight. What is worse is the high likelihood of this leading to continued obesity into adulthood. There are various links to childhood obesity, but this study helps put poor parenting into the discussion.
Four hundred ninety seven parents of children who were between the ages of two and three were involved in the study. The parents were asked 32 questions that delved into their relationship with their child. In addition, the parents were also asked to rate their own level of depression or anxiety. Important questions asked the parents how they dealt with the negative emotions of their child, frequency of family mealtimes, and number of hours spent watching television daily.
The families in the study were part of the Synergistic Theory and Research on Obesity and Nutrition Group. All of the children in the study were enrolled in 32 different child-care centers.
It is important to understand, however, that the study shows more of an association between insecure parents and childhood obesity, rather than a direct link. Nevertheless, as Time reports, this study helps bring forth some much-needed discussion about childhood obesity beyond what food is being served or how much TV is allowed, and the nature of parent-child relationships. Joseph Skelton, a professor of pediatrics in Wake Forest, echoes this sentiment and emphasizes the importance of family relationships, and how this Illinois survey looks at poor parenting in relation to childhood obesity.
By Kollin Lore