LONDON — Very strict parents are more likely to see their children overeat and deal with obesity, according to a new study.
Scientists at Imperial College London claim moms and dads with an “authoritarian” style don’t let their children regulate their diet properly — by getting a snack when they need to or stopping eating when they are full. They argue parenting classes could help adults understand that how they raise their little ones determines how heavy kids end up becoming later in life.
“Authoritarian mothers are characterized by being demanding and controlling, while having low warmth and responsiveness,” says study author Alexa Segal in a statement, according to SWNS. “This could lead to them not responding to their child’s hunger cues by, for example, not allowing them to select a snack when hungry, and/or asserting control over the child’s food intake by, for example, putting them under pressure to clean their plate when they are not hungry.”
“This control means that the child does not develop their own ability to regulate their own energy intake, meaning they might overindulge when they have the ability,” Segal adds.
The findings add to a recent study that found strict parenting may also increase the likelihood that children develop depression later on.
Neglectful parenting can have the same effect
The Imperial College London team also found neglectful parents, who don’t show much affection but also have few rules, were more likely to have heavier children. Youngsters with authoritarian or neglectful parents were around 3.3 pounds heavier than kids with warm but firm parents.
The link was found at all ages and held up when variables such as age, sex, and height were accounted for. For the study, the team analyzed data on more than 10,000 British children who took part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.
They examined links between parenting styles and kids’ weight when they were seven, 11, 13, 16, and 23 years-old. Parents answered questionnaires about how they raised their children and some of them were filmed interacting with their kids.
How do strict parents differ from others?
The team divided parenting styles into four categories: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful. Authoritative parents maintained clear boundaries while showing warmth while authoritarian parents were strict and showed their children little affection.
Permissive parents were nice but kept few rules and neglectful parents were emotionally uninvolved with their children and had few rules. Permissive parents also had heavier children, but the team says the link is “not statistically significant” and lessened with age.
“The effect of parenting style on a child’s weight is often considered a taboo subject,” Segal tells SWNS. “However, a comprehensive understanding of the associations between parenting style and childhood and adolescent obesity has great potential to inform obesity policy and contribute to the development of more effective health and nutrition programs.”
“Our findings can help inform obesity prevention and treatment programs by acting as a reminder to policymakers that modifiable risk factors for childhood obesity have significant roots within the home,” the researcher says in a statement.
“Future interventions and studies could explore whether parenting styles can be adapted to be warmer and more authoritative. Future childhood obesity programs could include parent support classes, where parents learn the importance of parenting style in preventing obesity. In cases where a child is already living with obesity, doctors and others providing support might consider stressing the effect that a lack of parental warmth has on a child’s weight.”
1 in 3 youngsters may be overweight or obese
“This study highlights the fundamental importance of parents in raising healthy children,” adds Louise Baur, President of the World Obesity Federation. “The world today often makes it difficult for children and families to eat well, be physically active, sleep well and cope with stress. Parents who are able to set appropriate limits for their child, while bringing warmth and sensitivity to the relationship, may be better able to help their child be as healthy as possible.”
The latest figures from the National Child Measurement Program for England show that 28 percent of four to five-year-olds and 41 percent of 10 to 11-year-olds are overweight or obese.
The team presented their findings at the International Congress on Obesity in Melbourne, Australia.
South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.