Can Your Parenting Style Influence your Child’s Weight?

Published on July 23, 2012

child appleAsian Americans are the least likely of all Americans to be obese. That is what a Gallup poll, released a few days ago on July 17, 2012 in America reported. After reading about that report I decided to do a bit of thinking on the topic of weight-related issues, especially child obesity. I read on the website of the United States Department of Health and Human Services that the “rate of diagnosed diabetes in Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders over 18 years of age is 9.1% compared to 7.6% of Caucasians.”

Why the seemingly opposite conclusions?

Because of their small body frames, Asian are not typically thought of as overweight or obese. However, the World Health Organization reports that Asians are at a higher risk of weight-related health problems at a lower body-fat count than their Caucasian counterparts. for examples, offer the example that “a 12-year-old Caucasian child who weighs 150 pounds and an Asian child who weighs only 125 pounds will face the same incidence of type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.”1

But the real question—why are the kids eating what they are eating?—had yet been asked in the literature that I was reading.

Aptly, someone sent me a research paper from the Australian Journal of Psychology titled Parenting and child body mass index: Longitudinal investigation of maternal and paternal influence, so I thought that I might spend a little time writing about this interesting topic.

The study’s aim was to investigate the relationship between a child’s body mass index and the style of parenting the child had been reared under. Specifically, the researcher’s wanted to know if the parenting style of a mother and father during the fourth and fifth year of a child’s life correlated with that child’s risk of obesity at 6-7 years of age. The labels used to describe parenting styles ‘demandingness’ and ‘responsiveness’ struck me as a slightly severe and not necessarily on the same continuum, but I was able to suspend my disbelief long enough to understand the author’s point.

Demandingness “… relates to the extent to which parents place clear boundaries on child behaviour, expect the child to behave appropriately within those bounds, and show willingness to confront or discipline the child who disobeys.” I view this style as one that might be more appropriately labeled ‘responsibility-ness’. After all, the parent is simply holding the child responsible for established rules and expectations. I do; however, concede that my background as a United States Marine and U.S. Army officer significantly biases my viewpoint. Also, to call it “responsibility-ness” would imply that its opposite in parenting style is “irresponsible-ness”—a particularly judgmental label. Most importantly, I am not the expert—they are.

As to choosing a name for the antithetical category, the authors selected ‘responsiveness.’ This idea “refers to the extent to which parents attune to the needs and demands of their child and responds in a supportive manner.” The authors claim that, to their knowledge, this study is the first of its kind. That is not to say that the relationship between parenting and child weight has never been considered, rather, earlier studies have failed to establish a clear relationship between the two. Citing those studies, the authors mention that authoritative styles have been associated with lower child BMI, and permissive styles with higher BMIs.

The authors were quite strict in their definitions. ‘Authoritative’ for example, could be interpreted differently than ‘demandingness’, and likewise permissive versus responsiveness. Connotation is important because as I read, I made mental notes of possible exceptions to the author’s findings. Had they taken into account, for instance, a parent that was neither demanding nor responsive, but simply disengaged?

What about households with two, three or five children in the family? Such questions, when posited within the context of demandingness and respondingness, you will find--to the authors’ credit—that the terms do seem to anticipate such abberations. On a different issue, the authors admit that the study lacked in its ability to gather consistent measurements. We can expect, though that it is difficult to reproduce the same measurements from different healthcare workers over several years of a growing child.

Reinforced by another study, which found warm, firm, fatherauthoritative parenting style in fathers to be protective against overweight and obesity, the researcher suggest that their finding supports the claim that Australian fathers’ rather than mothers’ parenting style may influence the obesity preventing or promoting environment of their young children.”

Further, assert the authors, a finding that maternal parenting style exerted no significant influence on child weight at age 4–5 is at least partially consistent with suggestions that a lack of child autonomy over food and activity choices in the pre- school years limits the opportunity for more general environmental variables, such as parenting style to influence child weight.

How does your parenting style influence your child’s weight? Drop us a line. Until next time, KEEP THINKING!  accessed July 19, 2012

Category(s):Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Parenting

Written by:

Tony Brown

Tony Brown is a former U.S. Army (Reserve) Medical Officer, and currently completing his studies as an M.D./PhD/MBA candidate, with a research thesis titled, “Pharmacology and the Neurological Correlates of Consciousness.”