What is the parents role in childhood obesity? Will adopting specific habits at an early age automatically increase the chances of holding excess weight as an adult? These are two questions which psychologists and nutritionists alike have grappled with for decades. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that weight loss and family environments are inextricably linked to one another.
There are nonetheless many factors to consider before drawing any concrete conclusions. Furthermore, it is also important to take into account the concept of nature versus nurture. Whether you are soon to be a parent or you are instead hoping to unravel some of the reasons why you have struggled with your weight in the past, a bit of insight can go a long way. Let us take an in-depth look at this topic.
Mimicry and Role Models
Children will naturally copy the actions of their parents at an early age. Indeed, this is one of the ways in which they learn basic skill sets as well as begin to interpret the outside world. It therefore stands to reason that parents who display unhealthy behaviors (such as poor diets or failing to exercise) are more likely to pass on these traits to their little ones.
What is perhaps more disturbing is that children will begin to view these actions as “normal”; lessening the chances that they seek healthier alternatives as they mature. This is why parents always need to display themselves as positive role models.
Perseverance is learned at a very young age and once again, by example. This is why parents should always encourage their children to succeed; even if the challenges themselves appear to be insurmountable at first glance. Positive reinforcement plays just as much of a relevant role. Let us look at a typical example.
Imagine that a young boy does not want to finish his vegetables. As opposed to adopting a negative stance such as threatening to take away evening television time, it is much better to provide some type of reward (perhaps playing outside or going to bed 15 minutes later than normal).
Mitigating the Innate Stigma of Obesity
Children who are overweight or obese will often encounter social issues such as exclusion or bullying; especially when they begin their schooling. This can present a real problem in terms of self-confidence as well as self-perception. Unfortunately, parents sometimes fail to recognise the amount of psychological damage that is possible.
Children need to feel confident in who they are on the inside as opposed to solely how they may appear on the outside. A parents role in childhood obesity should therefore include regular encouragement alongside open communication. Children must feel comfortable discussing sensitive subjects with trusted adults. They might otherwise begin to internalize these emotions and become even further withdrawn from their peers.
A Journey that Should Never be Taken Alone
Parental support is likewise pivotal in the event that a child is actively trying to lose weight or a particular diet is required in order to reduce daily caloric intake. As adults will often struggle with such goals, imagine how much more difficult such routines are for children who might not yet understand the associated benefits.
Ideally, parents should attempt to adopt the same routine as their child. This will help to illustrate that they are always available when needed and that they understand the difficulty of such tasks. The child will then be much more likely to seek out his or her parents for a bit of much-needed inspiration when required.
Building Strong Emotional Foundations
We are all aware that the world is currently in the throes of what can only be called an obesity epidemic. While genetics certainly play a role, familial environments can have just as much of an impact upon the health and well-being of a child.
Children are easily influenced by the behaviors of those whom they trust the most and in most cases, parental figures will shape their views on the world. This is why embracing a healthy lifestyle at an early age by setting a good example and providing support is an undeniable responsibility. Any parents role in childhood obesity is impossible to deny and appreciating the suggestions outlined above will help to point you in the right direction.