Researchers at Duke Medicine have provided us with hard evidence of what seems good common sense. A child whose mother encourages and models healthy behavior is more likely to be active and eat a balanced diet as an adult. Not all that surprising really. Still the findings, appearing in the May 2013 issue of the International Journal of Obesity are an important reminder to parents – children often tune out what you say, but they never miss what you do.
Healthy habits are easier to adopt when they are established early. What’s more, they protect against childhood obesity, a problem that’s more than doubled in children, tripled in teens over the past 30 years. In 2010, more than one third of kids and teens were considered to be overweight or obese.
Study author Truls Østbye, M.D., PhD, professor of community and family medicine at Duke, is quick to recognize that obesity is a complex phenomenon that’s influenced by many factors, but there are variations in levels of obesity from one society/environment to another, so there’s something in the environment that impacts obesity. Of course when it comes to children, the home and parenting help to shape both diet (encouraging eating fruits veggies) and physical behaviors (encouraging play outdoors) for long into the future. This latest study supplies evidence of just how important this can be.
The team examined the relationship between the home and behaviors that are related to being obese (diet and exercise habits, for example) in a group of preschoolers. There were 190 children, aged 2 to 5, whose mothers where considered either overweight or obese. The team collected details on the children’s intake of food over the past week, with items rated as healthy or junk foods. The children even wore accelerometers for a week, and this measured both moderate and vigorous physical activity as well as time spent in sedentary activities.
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Spread Healthy Living Habits Continued…
The socioeconomic status of the mothers was also examined; they supplied details
on their education levels and job status. These factors had no association with
the physical activity of the children, but showed mixed results in terms of diet.
More research in this area could help understand how socioeconomic factors might
influence a child’s health. Further work on if the influence of the home environment
changes as kids get older will also be needed before strategies can be developed
to address these issues.
The mothers also supplied details about the environment where their child lived, including the policies about food and exercise, the access to healthy/junk foods, availability of equipment/space for activity, and of course, if they modeled healthy eating and exercise for the child. When the team analyzed all the data they saw some significant links between the measures of environment and the subjects diet and exercise patterns. To promote healthy habits in children, parental role modeling and a healthy home environment are key. Kids ate more healthy foods when there was limited access to junk food and a family meal policy at home. The home environment had more impact on diet, rather than activity patterns, of the children.
It’s hard to change behaviors, but our children are one of the best reasons to do so. You’ll be healthier, and your children will have a ready role model for living a healthy lifestyle that will benefit them long into the future. It’s common sense, now backed by solid evidence.