Christmas Sweets: What they reveal about preventing child obesity

Posted on December 26, 2015

Photo source: Flickr

When you hear the word “Christmas”, what are the first five words that instantly pop into your head? This was the question asked in a new study that led researchers to suggest that differences in food parenting styles for special occasions, may be a key driver of childhood obesity.

The Christmassy study asked if there were any notable differences between overweight, obese and normal weight children in how they associate special events and festivities with food. A sample of 111 children (10-13 year old) were weight categorized based on their body mass index as underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. They were asked to play a word game where they were to spontaneously write down the first five events that came to their mind when prompted; for example: Christmas, holidays, birthday party, a carnival and the weekend.

Word association games have been used extensively in substance abuse research and have been shown to be reliable measures of alcohol intake. However, the researchers in the special events study were surprised with the results of their word association game. They had expected to find that a greater number of word associations between festive events and food would be predictive of a child being of greater weight as previous research would suggest.

Yet the exact opposite was true. A modest, but significant negative correlation was discovered between the childrens’ BMI and number of food-related associations they made with with special events. In other words, they observed that the higher a child’s BMI percentile category, the fewer food-related associations with festivities and special events were listed.

Say the researchers: “A possible, but speculative explanation is that in leaner children specific foods are more exclusively tied to special occasions than in overweight children. For example, if lean children are permitted to eat ice cream at particular moments only (e.g., at Saturday evenings but never on normal weekdays), their association between weekend and ice cream is most likely stronger than for children who are allowed ice cream at multiple occasions.”

In contrast, this would mean that the food parenting style more generally used in overweight and obese children is more liberal when it comes to treats and snacks being exclusive to “special” and distinctive occasions, and so food is much more loosely related to special occasions. Reserving unhealthy snacks, sweets and treats for special occasions only could help keep special foods “special” - and could aid in preventing child obesity.

Category(s):Child Development, Parenting

Source material from Brain Blogger

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