Obesity Prevention: Parenting Styles Make a Difference

Article excerpt

Childhood obesity is epidemic in the United States and other industrialized countries across the globe. This trend is alarming, because childhood obesity is associated with the early onset of serious health problems, including Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, orthopedic problems, behavioral disorders, and asthma. Mounting evidence also links childhood obesity to poor school performance. Of grave concern is the fact that increasingly younger children are being affected by childhood obesity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008a, 2008b). Consequently, it is important to begin the fight to reverse the childhood obesity trend early with prevention strategies.

While many factors influence the development of obesity in children, including genetic influences, culture, and poverty, research suggests that changes in children's environmental contexts can help prevent obesity. Experts have cited "obesogenic" environments, those that promote obesity through poor eating and sedentary activity, as most dangerous for children and they urge parents and teachers to create more healthful environments and to become better role models (Davidson, 2007). Unfortunately, many parents lack information on how to establish a healthful home and how to use good parenting practices to encourage their children's health.

Teachers and other childhood professionals are key resource persons who can disseminate information to parents and encourage parents to adopt effective practices. It is a well-known fact that parenting styles set the environmental and emotional context for children's development, and four classic parenting styles have been identified: 1) authoritarian, 2) permissive, 3) authoritative, and 4) neglectful or uninvolved. More recently, studies have found evidence of a connection between parenting styles and a child's risk of obesity. Research suggests that each parenting style exerts different influences on children's eating behaviors. For example, parents who have an authoritarian style manage children through strict rules and punishment. When feeding children, authoritarian parents tend to be less sensitive to children's satiation cues and, consequently, they have a tendency to urge a child to overeat or eat when the child is not hungry. Children experience high stress in the regimented eating environments of authoritarian parents and might resort to excessive eating as a coping mechanism. …