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Do you have the parenting skills to combat infant obesity?

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
infant obesity, parenting, intervention, health diet, TV watching

American children are becoming less healthy; it is a sad fact that 17% of all children in the U.S. are obese. That amount is three times higher than it was a generation ago. Instead of playing sports and exercising, children are spending more time in sedentary activities such as watching TV or playing video games. In addition, the dietary habits of many children are far from healthy.

Most would agree that poor parenting can increase the risk of infant obesity; however, some may not and many may simply not engage in parenting skills that can prevent the problem. To address the effects of parent-focused intervention on infant obesity, researchers in Australia and the United Kingdom conducted a study to assess the benefits of such an intervention. They published their findings online on March 4 in the journal Pediatrics.

The objective of the study was to assess the effectiveness of a parent-focused intervention on infants’ obesity-risk behaviors and body mass index (BMI). The researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial comprised of 542 parents and their infants (average age: 3.8 months at baseline). The subjects were derived from 62 first-time parent groups. The parents were offered six two-hour dietitian-delivered sessions over a 15 month period that focused on parental knowledge, skills, and social support regarding infant feeding, diet, physical activity, and television viewing. The control group parents received six newsletters on nonobesity-focused themes. All parents in both groups received standard healthcare from child health nurses. The primary outcomes of interest were: child diet (3 × 24-hour diet recalls); child physical activity (accelerometry); and child TV viewing (parent report). Secondary outcomes included BMI z-scores (measured). Data were collected when the children were 4, 9, and 20 months of age.

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The researchers found that unadjusted analyses revealed that, compared with controls, intervention group children consumed fewer grams of noncore (nonessential) drinks (average difference: –4.45) and were less likely to consume any noncore drinks (odds ratio: 0.48) at mid-intervention (average age: 9 months). At the conclusion of intervention (average age: 19.8 months), the intervention group children consumed fewer grams of sweet snacks (average difference: –3.69) and viewed fewer daily minutes of television (average difference: –15.97). The investigators found little statistical evidence of differences in fruit, vegetable, savory snack, or water consumption or in BMI z-scores or physical activity.

The authors concluded that this intervention resulted in reductions in sweet snack consumption and television viewing in 20-month-old children.

Take home message:
It should be a no-brainer that parents should offer their infants a healthy diet; however, this study found that many first-time parents did not necessarily following appropriate guidelines. Thus, many parents are in need of guidance in this area from their healthcare professionals. This advice must be carefully offered in a non-threatening manner to avoid responses such as: “I am a good parent, don’t tell me how to raise my kids.” Sadly, with the current obesity epidemic, many parents are overweight or obese and engage in an unhealthy diet and other poor lifestyle choices.

Reference: Pediatrics