TEMPE, Ariz. -- Parents have a strong influence over whether or nottheir children will become overweight or obese, and it's not just theirgenes that they pass on.
Most significantly, when children grow up in families with bad eatinghabits and sedentary lifestyles dominated by television watching andvideo games, they are 33.3 percent more likely to become overweight orobese as young adults.
Bad eating habits include no parental control over diet and skipping breakfast.
Thesefindings are among others revealed by a new Arizona State Universitystudy on the influence of family environment on adolescent risk forobesity. The study was presented Aug. 14 at the American SociologicalAssociation annual meeting in Philadelphia, Penn.
"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for weight control,"says author Ashley Fenzl Crossman, graduate teaching assistant in ASU'sDepartment of Sociology. "And the amount of time spent in sedentaryactivities is a strong predictor of weight gain. No surprise."
However, a key finding from the study is that kids don't needto engage in high levels of physical activity to prevent obesity.Instead, adolescents who have less time to engage in sedentaryactivities because they are involved in other things -- includingnon-athletic activities such as school clubs, marching band, part-timejobs, volunteer work, church activities or household chores -- are lesslikely to become overweight.
Crossman utilized data from the National Longitudinal Study ofAdolescent Health, a school-based tool designed to assess the health ofadolescents in grades 7 through 12. The study population includes arepresentative sample of all public and private schools in the UnitedStates.
Approximately 6,400 children where selected from two waves of the studythat took place six years apart, in 1995 and again in 2001-2002.
In addition to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, Crossman'sstudy revealed other ways in which parents influence their children'schances of becoming overweight.
Adolescents are more likely to become overweight if their parents areobese. Crossman says that future research should be done with adoptedadolescents to determine what may be genetic or environmentalinfluences within families that have an obese mother or father.
High self-esteem has a positive influence on body weight, andchildren whose parents received a higher level of education have adecreased risk of being overweight or obese.
Household income, however, was not significant, indicating that is theeducational dimension of parents' socioeconomic status that mattersmost for adolescents' weight status.
Interestingly, the stronger the social bonds are between parentand child, the more likely the child is to be overweight. Crossmanspeculates this can be attribute to several factors.
"The closer children are to their parents, the more likely they are tointernalize the values and norms that their parents promote or model.Nearly two-thirds of adults are overweight and 30 percent are obese,"she says. "Other reasons might include over eating due to separationanxiety when the child leaves the home, or parents not wanting tocriticize their children's eating habits when they are young."
Contrary to other reports, Crossman found no evidence thatchildren who live in single parent or stepparent households are morelikely than those who live with two biological or adoptive parents tobe overweight or obese as young adults.
In addition, she found that race and ethnic differences are insignificant.
The prevalence of excessive weight among American adolescents hasincreased dramatically over the past 25 years. Approximately 15 percentof children age 12 to 19 are currently overweight or obese, a one-thirdincrease since the late 1970s.
Experts report that if this incidence of excessive body weightcontinues to rise, being overweight or obese will soon surpasscigarette smoking as the number one cause of preventable disease in theUnited States.
"Our research suggests that prevention must begin at home," Crossmansays. "We need a public health campaign that educates all adults andchildren in the home on the importance of creating a family environmentthat promotes healthy habits."
Crossman has several suggestions for families. Parents and othercaretakers should be urged to exert control over children's diets,including making a healthy breakfast a priority, and to limit theamount of free time that children have to spend on sedentary activities.
Parents and other caretakers also need to be made aware that promotinga positive self-esteem in children is also an important element inpreventing them from the long-term health risks of excessive weight.
Finally, parents who are obese need to understand that they are puttingtheir children at high risk for becoming overweight or obese bymodeling unhealthy habits.
Cite This Page: