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A study published in the journal Obesity reveals that parents of obese children can lead by example in regards to a child’s weight loss. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the University of Minnesota conducted the research and found that when parent’s lost weight, their children were more likely to follow suit.
“We looked at things such as parenting skills and styles, or changing the home food environment, and how they impacted a child’s weight,” said Kerri N. Boutelle, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at UC San Diego and Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. “The number one way in which parents can help an obese child lose weight? Lose weight themselves. In this study, it was the most important predictor of child weight loss.”
The statistics are somewhat shocking. According to recent data, 31 percent of United States’ children are overweight or obese. This percentage equates to nearly 4 to 5 million children. Doctors define obesity to be 20% over normal weight. This means if a child’s normal weight is 100 pounds, then weighing 120 pounds would put them in the obese category.
Parents looking to encourage healthy eating habits are fighting an uphill battle. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention have conducted studies that show popular fast food restaurants are often located in close proximity to schools. Of the 1,292 schools and 613 fast food restaurants included in the study, 35% of the schools were within a five minute walk of a fast food restaurant. More than 80% of schools had at least one fast food restaurant within a ten minute walk.
In order to combat childhood obesity, doctors recommend treatment programs that include both the parent and the child in order to combine nutrition education with exercise and behavior therapy techniques.
“Parents are the most significant people in a child’s environment, serving as the first and most important teachers,” said Boutelle “They play a significant role in any weight-loss program for children, and this study confirms the importance of their example in establishing healthy eating and exercise behaviors for their kids.”
While conducting research for this study, the doctors looked at eighty parent-child groups with an obese child between the ages of 8 to 12. These groups participated for 5 months in either parent-only or parent-plus-child treatment programs.
The researchers then focused on evaluating the effectiveness on three types of parenting skills taught during family-based behavioral treatment for childhood obesity and the subsequent impact on the child’s weight. Parents either modeled behavior to promote their own weight loss, changed the food environment at home, or changed their parenting style and techniques, limiting when and what the child could eat and encouraging them to exercise and be active.
After looking at the data from these studies, the researchers found that the only consistent predictor of a child’s weight loss was the parent’s weight loss and drop in BMI. This new research confirms previously published research.
Clinicians, doctors, and pediatricians are encouraged to suggest parental weight loss, in addition to family-based treatments, to help obese and overweight children lose weight.
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