Children follow the example set by their parents, more often than not. Certainly, every child goes through his or her period of rebellion, but many children will mirror the habits of the adults around them. This is apparently true when it comes to mothers and their children. The bottom line is, if moms want to encourage their children to see the benefits of exercise, they need to be active themselves.
Children are naturally active, to the extent that their minds are always busy as they move to explore the world around them, but they are not ones to spontaneously decide to jump and run around the block if their moms are in a habit of sitting and hanging out. According to the University of Cambridge study, published today in the journal Pediatrics, that analyzed 554 mothers, most of whom were working, and their interactions with their preschool-aged children. Both were fitted with Actiheart monitors, which are accelerometers combined with heart rate monitors, and the results after one week of wearing the monitors indicated that children were not naturally active.
Interestingly, there was no consideration given to the father’s role in children’s activity levels, and there was no direct link stating conclusively that the activity level of mothers have an absolute influence on the activity levels of their children. However, the University of Cambridge study shows some promise when trying to determine how to encourage children to be more active overall.
Other factors that seemed to influence children’s activity level included whether or not the child had siblings, the level of the mother’s education, and whether or not the father was present in the home. Shockingly, only 53 percent of mothers engaged in moderate to strenuous physical activity only once a week. The study authors suggest that policies regarding child health should be directed at families as a whole and encourage families to be active in general.
The supposition that active moms make for active children seems only to be reinforced by the link that exists particularly between mothers and their preschool-aged children. The study’s lead author, Dr. Esther von Sluijs, says that future studies will focus upon whether or not this apparent relationship between maternal and child activity levels changes as the children get older.
Many of the mothers involved in the study were working moms whose children attended daycare. Professor Leann Birch of the University of Georgia, who studies obesity in children, noted the apparent lack of research done in the role of the father in determining child activity levels and said that research has indicated children tend to roughhouse more with their fathers than with their moms. This alone suggests that children are involved in a greater degree of higher action play with their fathers.
While active moms apparently make for active children, the study’s authors suggest that government officials should look at how to encourage active families rather than just active children. It is also suggested that the more moms are encouraged to be active during their childbearing years, the more likely they will be to bring this trend with them after their children are born and are of an age to be active on a regular basis. Given the role exercise and activity has in preventing disease, the study authors are hopeful encouraging moms and children to be active will lead to greater long-term health benefits for all family members.
By Christina St-Jean