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Family dynamics and kids’ diets

PARENTS’ general approach to raising their children is often apparent in how they manage their kids’ diets, suggesting that efforts to control childhood obesity need to consider family dynamics, according to researchers. In a study of 239 parents of first-grade children, researchers found that parents who were strict in general also tended to have an “authoritarian” approach to their children’s eating – banning certain foods, for instance, or using pressure to get them to eat fruits and vegetables.

Similarly, parents who were generally “permissive” in what they let their children eat tended to have similar parenting styles.In between these two groups, the researchers found, were “authoritative” parents. These parents set limits on their children’s diets, but often used more positive approaches – like following a healthy diet themselves – to get their kids to eat well.

The findings show that parents’ general styles are important in their children’s diets, according to Dr Laura Hubbs-Tait and colleagues at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

They also suggest that efforts to help obese children lose weight are “not likely to be successful” unless the underlying family dynamics are addressed, the researchers report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

In general, experts recommend that parents use positive approaches to get their children to eat right, by setting a good example with their own diets, for example.

But in this study, both the strict and permissive parents typically failed to serve as good dietary role models for their children.

“Due to the infrequency of healthy eating modelled by both permissive and authoritarian parents,” the researchers write, “food and nutrition professionals might encourage both to begin more healthy eating – for the sake of their own health and that of their children.”

A lack of attention to family dynamics may help explain why child obesity treatment is often less than successful, according to Hubbs-Tait and her colleagues.

”Food and nutrition professionals who are implementing dietary change or obesity treatment programmes need to include more complex approaches to behavioural change that include parenting styles and family dynamics,” they conclude.


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