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It is well known today that the obesity epidemic is claiming more and more victims each day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention writes “that nearly 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) in the United States have obesity”. While many factors that lead to obesity have been researched, including the increased consumption of unhealthy foods, the relationship between parents and children obesity haven’t been analyzed as often. So this essay will try to answer the question: How significant are parents in modeling and encouraging healthy eating habits in order to control children’s weight and end childhood obesity?
Parents are a child’s role model in the early years of their life, especially because children spend a lot of time at home with them. “Parents play an essential role because they can exert external control, including social support and food management, on children”. Parents can teach positive behaviors so children know how to make healthy decisions in order to be healthy throughout their lives. “The percentage of teens who report having family dinner at least five times per week has…increased from 47% in 1998 to 61% in 2002”. In other words, more families are eating meals together. My feelings on this claim are mixed. I do support the idea that eating together as a family is a good way to spend time, however parents generally use this time as a way to keep up to date with what is happening in their children’s lives, not using this time to their advantage to necessarily exhibit positive eating habits. What about the remaining 39%, that don’t eat together? One could say that families don’t have the time with busy work/school schedules. Though I concede that parents have long work hours, children have extra-curricular activities, and it’s more convenient to pick up dinner than make it, I still think it’s the parent’s responsibility to take the time to supply a healthy meal for their children.
Parents need to set stricter rules in order to show children strong eating habits that they can use for a lifetime. Exhibiting an authoritative parenting style allows parents to be firm yet flexible when it comes to letting their child choose their own foods. “Authoritative parents neither give their children free rein nor hold them in too tightly”. This child-focused technique demonstrates self-control to children because it allows children to make their own decisions from the healthy food that parents are accountable for getting. “Parents are responsible for offering a healthful variety of foods, while children themselves are responsible for deciding what and how much they want to eat”. When you see junk food everywhere, you need to know how to control yourself so you can make positive choices. But just like every other parenting style, this one has flaws.
On the other hand, this parenting style requires much effort from parents, especially if you are dealing with a stubborn and angry child. Being authoritative requires parents to discipline children, which often leads to rebellion. “We cannot force them onto a treadmill and feed them a carefully controlled diet because it will lead them to rebel against such heavy handed measures”. This parenting style works because it requires common respect between the parents and the child. Because it is focused mainly on the child’s development, parents show their child how to be independent. Children are enabled to have the freedom to make crucial decisions in their earlier years, allowing them to make those same decisions in their adult years and grow up as independent individuals.
But, nutritional intervention isn’t effective alone, parents need to add behavior techniques to the program so their child is more successful long term, meaning that weight loss/management isn’t just during their younger years. The goal is to promote healthy habits that will carry over into their future, so they aren’t overweight/obese as adults. There are many different techniques that parents can use, including monitoring children’s food intake and restricting the food supply altogether.
Studies show that monitoring children’s calorie intake influences their decision. In a study that analyzed how parents’ child-feeding behaviors influenced child weight, Clark et. al discovered that “parental monitoring of fat intake at age 5 predicts lower BMI at age 7, when BMI at age 3 was accounted for”. In other words, parental monitoring regulates children’s fat intake. Some claim that monitoring isn’t effective, but rather harmful because it triggers binge eating once the child isn’t being monitored. They will return to their own habits and gain the weight back that they lost.
I believe that there are always risks that are included in a weight lost program. But, therapy and behavior modification are highly-studied topics that shows that children lose more weight with these techniques. One study showed that monitoring made “children’s choices significantly lower in total calories, saturated fats, and salt,” when they studied a group of children under parental monitoring v. no monitoring. In other words, constantly monitoring a child’s food choice will allow them to identify healthy food options and then choose those foods, even when junk food is available. Excessive monitoring of a child’s calorie intake could lead parents to restricting food, especially if the child still isn’t making positive decisions on their own.
“Parents who restrict what their young children eat believes they are doing what is best for their child”. If you are restricting the junk food out of a child’s life, they won’t be able to eat it. But, what parents don’t know is that restricting junk food only increases the desire for them. According to Clark et. al, “Children may be more likely to seek and consume restricted foods they may become over-excited when restricted foods are available”. That is to say that children will lose their self-control when junk food is around. I believe that children need to have a fully stocked refrigerator full of choices, including healthy and unhealthy foods. In a world full surrounded by junk food, there will never be a way to completely restrict sugary, salty, and fatty foods out of a child’s life. But, whose responsibility is it to make the first step and make these life and eating habit changes?
In discussions of child obesity, a controversial issue has been whether or not children or parents are responsible to make the eating and lifestyle change. On the one hand, some argue that the child is accountable for becoming obese, so it should be their problem to correct it. Obesity is caused by taking “in more calories as fuel than they burn during their daily activities, so that the excess is being stored…as unhealthy quantities of fat”. In other words, some argue that the child’s choice of food is the cause of childhood obesity. On the other hand, however, others argue that parents are the cause of child obesity. Children don’t know enough about nutrition at such a young age, in order to make the right, healthy decision. So, if the parent isn’t exhibiting positive habits, the child won’t learn them either, causing unhealthy behaviors in their lives that could cause obesity later.
My own view is that parents are causing the unhealthy habits that are causing children obesity. How are children supposed to know healthy eating habits if parents aren’t good examples themselves? Susan Okie, author of Fed Up!, advocates that “parents should not set a bad example by eating junk food or following an unbalanced fad diet while expecting their children to follow a different set of rules”. All that unhealthy parents know is their unhealthy eating habits. Also, children are getting their food selection from their parents. If they are supplying their unhealthy diet with unhealthy foods, children only have the option of choosing junk food to eat. Thus, this shows why it’s necessary for parents to provide healthy food for children to choose from, and be involved as a role model.
In order to control a child’s weight and end childhood obesity, parents must play a significant part by modeling and encouraging healthy eating behaviors. Children are our country’s future so it is important that we protect our future by helping to find a solution. In a world full of junk food and lack of physical exercise, families need to stick together to make healthy eating choices. Parents need to take action and be an active role model for their children, so the obesity epidemic can start to move in a hopeful direction.
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