Parent’s Roll in Preventing Child Obesity

Sadly, child obesity has become one of the major health problems world wide. As I began my research, there was no doubt in my mind that proving the parent’s lack of taking responsibility for the health of their children was going to be an easy point to prove. As I dug deeper and deeper, I found that I was quite wrong, and that it is unfair to place blame on the parents alone when there are so many other factors that have to be considered first.

There have been actual cases, that will be mentioned later in this paper, where parents have been charged with felony charges and faced up to 15 years behind bars before authorities even considered the possibilities that there could be health issues within the individual that suffers from obesity that are beyond the control of the parents or the child. (Dolgoff 2010). Is breaking up a family, or parents being sentenced to prison the answer to solving the growing problem of child obesity? I think not.

March 23-A South Carolina woman was charged with 2 felony charges of neglect as her 14 year old reached an outrageous weight of 555lbs. (Dolgoff 2010). My first initial response to that was to immediately blame the mother and father allowing this to happen. Apparently, it was the same initial thought of authorities as well. Who’s to say that this 14 year old did not have other health issues leading to being obese?

Where do we draw the line when it comes to charging the parents for neglect when there could actually be an unknown genetic abnormality within an individual? Some individuals are deficient (or resistant to) the effects of a protein called leptin. Leptin is what tells our brain that we are full and no longer need to eat. (Dolgoff 2010). It has been shown in studies with mice that when having such deficiency, it is possible to never have the feeling of “being full” and always remain hungry resulting in overeating and in turn becoming obese. How is it possible to place blame on one’s parents before knowing for sure that a child does not suffer from this genetic abnormality?

I feel that the topic I have researched is so important because of the number of children growing up with low self-esteem, children who are picked on, and judged by their peers, suffer from isolation, low school attendance, along with the dangers of future health problems. In my research, I give examples of why it is or is not fair to place blame on parents of obese children, especially when it comes to children that attend school daily. Although it is the parents’ obligation to see that they are meeting the needs of their child’s nutritional intake in the home, it is out of their control as to what they are eating outside of the home. How is a parent to know that the money that is sent with their child to buy a turkey sandwich is not spent buying ice cream and a soda instead?

It is easy for a child that goes to school every day to have access to food that can be a factor in their weight gain, but if a child has not grown up with junk food readily available on a daily basis in the home (since birth), it is not likely for that child to crave or desire the junk food away from the home. Below are a few important, simple, yet so significant things that were listed by several of the researchers that parents can do to prevent their child from becoming overweight:
• Pay attention to your child. Show them that you care and let them know that they are important. (Lissau I, Sorensen 1994).
• Don’t use food as a comfort measure. (Burch H. 1973).
• Don’t closely monitor the amounts your child eats ornag your child to eat at mealtime. This can interfere with your child’s response to hunger and feeling full. The two most important basis for healthy eating behaviors.
• Don’t focus on the weight. Instead, focus on healthy living: good eating habits physical activity. Girls whose moms were worried that their daughter would be overweight were more likely to have abnormal eating behaviors. (Epstein LH, Myers MD, Raynor HA, Saelens BE 1998).
• Gayatri Chatrath, a nutritionist at the Centre for Dietary Counseling, also feels that a diet plan for children should not be rigid or else there are chances they won’t stick to it. (Mail Today 2009).

Ana Lindsay, Katarina Sussner, Juhee Kim, and Steven Gortmaker argue that interventions aimed at preventing childhood overweight and obesity should involve parents as important forces for change in their children’s behaviors. They begin by reviewing evidence on how parents can help their children develop and maintain healthful eating and physical activity habits, thereby ultimately helping prevent childhood overweight and obesity. They show how important it is for parents to understand how their roles in preventing obesity change as their children move through critical developmental periods, from before birth and through adolescence. (Bosely 2010)
Researchers, policymakers, and practitioners should also make use of such information to develop more effective interventions and educational programs that address childhood obesity right where it starts–at home. Evaluating school-based obesity-prevention interventions that include components targeted at parents is on the rise. Although much research has been done on how parents shape their children’s eating and physical activity habits, surprisingly few high-quality data exist on the effectiveness of such programs. Programs and cost-effectiveness studies aimed at improving parents’ ability to shape healthful eating and physical activity behaviors in their children are also on the rise. Preventing and controlling childhood obesity will require multifaceted and community-wide programs and policies, with parents having a critical role to play. Successful intervention efforts must involve and work directly with parents from the earliest stages of child development to support healthful practices both in and outside of the home. (ERIC 2006).

In one early study, Hughes and colleagues worked with data from 718 low-income Black, White, or Hispanic parents of 3- to 5-year-old preschoolers in Texas and Alabama. Parents filled out Hughes’s feeding-styles questionnaire. Kids’ heights and weights were measured to determine their BMI, or body mass index-an indicator of body fatness. Among other findings, the team determined that the “indulgent” feeding style was significantly associated with higher child BMI. Hughes, along with Theresa A. Nicklas of the Houston center and other co-investigators, documented the study in a 2008 article in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Hughes also collaborated in another analysis of data from the same volunteers. For that study, led by Michigan State University nutrition researcher Sharon O. Hoerr, scientists scrutinized the relation between feeding styles and how much of a given type of food kids ate-between 3 p.m. and bedtime-on three different days.
In an article published in 2009 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, the scientists report that kids whose parents’ feeding styles were either “indulgent” or “uninvolved” ate the least fruit, 100-percent-fruit juice, vegetables, or dairy foods, as compared to kids whose parents had “authoritarian” feeding styles. Ironically, the least-eaten foods were those that experts agree are the most helpful for weight management, Hughes notes. The studies are among the most extensive of their kind for this demographic. Hopefully the research will help shape meal-time parenting across America for the better. (Woods, Marcia 2010).

Experts warn that diabetes and heart diseases could rise dramatically in the next 25 years unless the problem is tackled, overwhelming India’s already over- burdened healthcare system. If steps are not taken to reverse the course, the children of each successive generation seem destined to be fatter and sicker than their parents. (Mail Today 2009).

Blaming fast foods and TV addiction for this epidemic is both convenient and shifts the onus, the experts say. The real culprits are parents, who have a huge role to play in preventing their children from becoming obese. “It is the prime responsibility of parents to ensure healthy meals at home encourage an active lifestyle and become good role models for their kids through their own actions,” (Dr. Misra 2009). Nutritionists say parents must be more involved in what their child is eating and monitor his/ her food intake. “Parents are too busy these days to pay attention to their kids’ diet. They hand out large amounts of pocket money to relieve their guilt, which kids spend on junk food,” says Nilanjana Singh, consultant nutritionist at the Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute for Liver, Renal & Digestive Diseases.

Now that I have touched a little on the parents’ role in preventing child obesity, I would like to take a minute to touch on the flip side of the coin. Although ninety percent of obese children are obese as a result of the parenting roles and influences, there are other factors that can cause obesity that have nothing to do with the parents. There needs to be an awareness of the occasions in which a child may be suffering from the resistance of the protein leptin. It is important that before blaming the parents with their children being obese, every angle has been evaluated first.

I feel that it’s important for us to not stereotype, judge, blame, or talk about an obese individual until the underlying possibilities of other health issues have been considered or until you yourself has had to walk in the shoes and live the life of an obese child.


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