Most of us are aware of the severity of the childhood obesity epidemic. But I think this issue escapes the consciousness of many parents, especially those who don’t have obese children. Bear in mind, treating obesity is not a matter of targeting children who are overweight or already obese. We should widen our scope, as behaviors and attitudes about nutrition and activity are shaped in childhood, thus affecting not only the short term, but also the long term risk for obesity.
But the question remains: how do we best address this issue? Should we focus on providing education and physical education to kids? Or should we focus on the parents? Or both? Although I’ve written about this issue before, there have been some fascinating studies since. Let’s check out some recent research on this – the answers might surprise you.
Boutelle, et al Obesity 2010
Researchers from the University of California San Diego looked at the difference between enrolling parents only in a nutrition and fitness program versus a parent and children enrollment. They wanted to see how families with obese children between 8 and 12 years old responded to a 5 month weight loss program. The results indicated thatthe parent only group did just as well as the child-parent group. Researchers noted that this same phenomenon has been observed in other studies to influence child behaviors.
Okely, et al. Pediatrics 2011.
Researchers looked at 185 overweight children and their parents to study the effects of 3 different approaches on reducing children’s weight. The first group involved teaching parents about healthy eating behaviors to influence how the entire family eats. The second group involved putting the children through a physical education program. The final group involved both the parental nutrition education and the child physical education program.
The results showed that the parent only nutrition education program was more successful in achieving weight loss results after 2 years than the other groups. The researchers speculated that parents worked harder at changing the food environment when they knew that this was the only intervention.
So what does this mean?
This clearly shows that focusing on educating parents about proper nutrition is the most effective strategy to address childhood obesity. Specifically, focusing on educating parents about nutrition is vital to change the food environment in which kids spend most of their time.
How Can We Do This?
The best strategy is to act proactively – before your child struggles with being overweight or obese. And the younger, the better. However, studies continue to show that even with overweight and obese children, parents have the greatest influence on effective positive changes.
Learning about proper nutrition for you and your family is not easy. There is so much conflicting information, and little is based on sound research. And strategies that work in the real world are scarce.
Click here to find out how to change your perspective about nutrition and health, with evidence based strategies that work in the real world. It will open your eyes!