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Children with involved parents become thinner as adults

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds parents who are involved in their children's lives help them become slimmer as adults.

Researchers at Cornell University report that children with parents who are actively involved in their lives tend to be slimmer when they become adults. Their findings, published in PLOS ONE, are the result of one of the first-of-its-kind studies to use a method called “crowdsourcing” to discover predictors of obesity.

Crowdsourcing is defined by Merriam-Webster as the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.

In this regard, researchers for this study wanted to find out if crowdsourcing might be a reliable method for obtaining data and other information about various predictors of obesity.

In order to determine this, the researchers recruited 532 adults to participate in the study. The participants were selected from content-specific areas of reddit.com, a website containing content submitted by users.

For the study, the researchers asked the adult participants this question:

"Which childhood experiences and behaviors might predict slimness or obesity in adulthood?"

The responses were put in the form of a question, which resulted in a total of 56 different questions, including the following:

1) When you were a child, did someone consistently pack a lunch for you to take to school?
2) When you were a child, were your parents obese?
3) When you were a child, how much sleep did you get on an average school weekday?
4) When you were a child, were you bullied?

The participants also answered a series of questions about their own childhood behaviors. Additionally, they provided the research team with other information, including how old they were, how much they weighed and how tall they were.

After analyzing all the data and responses to their questions, the researchers determined from the results of the crowd-sourced study that those whose parents were very involved in their lives during childhood were more likely to be slim in adulthood.

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The researchers also found that crowdsourcing was an effective tool for their study, which helped them gather research-based data and other information related to predictors of obesity. For example, data from 2010 revealed that the rate of obesity in America among children and adolescents at that time was 16.9%, whereas it was 35.7% among adults.

Because obesity in America has reached epidemic proportions, the researchers said that methods like crowdsourcing can be useful in research because it is not only efficient and effective, but in this case, it was also a simple screening tool that detected "behaviors that are established early in life and have a significant influence on weight gain later in life."

In this study, lead researcher Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University, pointed out that crowdsourcing helped them uncover the important finding that being an involved parent can help your children avoid obesity as adults.

"One of the best safeguards against your children becoming overweight as adults is how involved you are with their lives," Wansink said.

He added that the study found that parents who play with their children or otherwise just hang out with them and teach them about nutrition are more often than not going to help them grow up to become slender adults.

Wansink said that it doesn’t really matter what you do with your children – just spending a lot of time with them and remaining involved in their young lives helps.

So what was it about crowdsourcing that made it such a big deal for this study?

According to another author, Kirsten Bevelander, crowdsourcing was an inexpensive method that helped them uncover childhood predictors of obesity that experts have never thought about, such as bullying or the involvement of their parents in their younger lives, which they may have otherwise overlooked if they hadn’t solicited input from the online community at reddit.com.

The team also said that their findings demonstrate how crowdsourcing can confirm and replicate existing hypotheses from previous research data, while also generating “ideas that are less well documented."

The authors concluded that crowdsourcing is most likely to be a “complement to, rather than a replacement for, conventional research methods."

1. "Crowdsourcing." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2014. .
2. Crowdsourcing novel childhood predictors of adult obesity, Bevelander KE, et al., PLOS ONE, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087756, published 5 February 2014.