Mexican American children are 60% more likely to be overweight than Caucasian children. This disproportionate effect of obesity is alarming and health professionals are looking for solutions. Today’s study from the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity takes a positive step towards better defining the problem.
Researchers interviewed the parents of 174 Mexican American children. While the parents were interviewed, their children were weighed and measured. Then the results were tabulated and researchers began to make connections between the parents’ feeding practices and whether their children were overweight. The study revealed four factors that were correlated with healthier children:
- First, positive involvement from the parents was a critical necessity for healthy children. Parents with healthier children actively monitored their children’s diets and restricted high-calorie foods. Involvement from the mother was particularly important compared to the father.
- Next, children were generally healthier when parents pressured them to eat. This is somewhat counter-intuitive. The study’s authors theorize that perhaps children who are pressured to eat perceive food as less desirable and therefore do not overeat.
- Next, when parents used food to control behavior, children were healthier. This effect was particularly strong when enacted by fathers.
- Finally, restricting the amount of food children were allowed to eat resulted in more overweight children. This is consistent with other research we have seen recently. Apparently restricting access to food has the opposite of its intended effect. Parents in other studies had better results from giving unlimited access to healthy foods.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem with many tangled factors. Perhaps with further research on best practices, parents will be better equipped to raise healthy children. Are you a parent with healthy children? What have been some of your keys to success?
1. Jeanne Tschann, et. al. Parental feeding practices in Mexican American families: initial test of an expanded measure. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:6. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-10-6
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