Parental Time To Be Key in Fight Against Childhood Obesity
Child Obesity and Parents
The fight against obesity in children just got a new weapon, thanks to a multi-year study by researchers from Texas A&M University.
The study found that the amounts and quality of time parents spent with their children has a direct effect on children's rates of obesity, said Dr. Alex McIntosh, lead researcher. McIntosh is professor of sociology with a research appointment from Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture study, "Parental Time, Role Strain and Children's Fat Intake and Obesity-Related Outcomes," was published in June.
In general, researchers found the amount of time a mother spent with her child, her work stress and her income level had a larger impact in lowering the child's risk of obesity than the father's time, work stress and income, McIntosh said.
Furthermore, the more time a mother spends with the child, the less likely that child is to be obese; conversely, the more time a father spends with a child, the more likely the child will be obese, he said.
"The impacts were greater for 9- to 11-year-old children than for 13- to 15-year-old children," he added.
As a sociologist, McIntosh has long wondered how parents influence their children's nutritional habits, he said.
"The project has been in my head for well over 10 years," he said. "For a long time we thought that parents ought to influence what their kids eat, but we were not sure how that worked."
And that's what the Texas A&M researchers set out to find, he said.
"The epidemic of obesity is spreading across the United States and across the world," said Dr. Karen Kubena, one of the researchers. She is a professor of nutrition and food science and associate dean for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
"Of concern is the fact that the prevalence is increasing at younger and younger ages. ... Factors related to development and perpetuation of obesity need to be identified so that prevention can be achieved," she said.
Because so many families are headed by two working parents, the focus of the research was to look at how the parents' work-related stress, flexibility and general work conditions influenced the children's nutrition, McIntosh said.
"One factor in the development of childhood obesity that has been suggested but about which little research data exist is mothers working outside of the home," Kubena said. "The study was designed to look at time allocation and food selection and the role of women's employment. Other factors related to parental influence on children's dietary intake and body weight were assessed as well."
The research turned out to be more complicated than expected in many ways, McIntosh said. First, finding 300 families who had the right demographics and were willing to participate took 15 months. Both parents and one child had to agree to fill out a complete two-day diary, and the participating child had to be either 9-11 or 13-15. And all participating families had to live in the Houston area.