New research from Penn State found that children with positive, responsive interactions with their caregivers in the home lowered their risk of childhood obesity
Navigating the complicated, confusing relationship between body image, weight and the overall emotional and physical health of our kids might be one of the most difficult aspects of parenting in a world full of airbrushed-to-perfection selfies.
On one hand, childhood obesity is a very real epidemic in the U.S., with the CDC reporting that the prevalence of obesity among American children and adolescents is at an all-time high of 19.3%. On the other hand, some of the parameters the medical community use to define obesity, like Body Mass Index (BMI), have been called flawed and misleading by countless experts.
Fortunately, a new study by researchers from Penn State published in the journal Pediatrics suggests there is one surefire way to ensure your child’s risk of obesity is lowered without inflicting the potential longterm emotional trauma of body-shaming or dieting. The science-backed secret to success? Making sure children have a positive, stimulating home environment and responsive and warm caregivers.
“Research on parenting has shown that these types of family assets influence children’s behavior, academic success, career, and —not surprisingly — health,” Brandi Rollins, assistant research professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State and co-author of the study, said in a press release.
It might not seem like the most revolutionary finding — having a good home environment will positively impact anyone’s overall health — but it is always nice to have data back up what feels like common sense parenting.
The study also found that all children, no matter socioeconomic status, had a lowered risk of obesity with these familial assets
There are so many factors that can increase a child’s risk of obesity, including poverty, being raised by a single parent, and maternal depression. Some of these childhood obesity risk enhancers, like poverty, are part of the larger system of structural racism and aren’t things a parent can magically fix overnight.
“Though the findings on severe obesity may seem discouraging, they offer some hope,” Rollins said. “Some risk factors, like household poverty, can be very difficult to change. Assets, on the other hand, may be easier to build. People can learn to parent responsively. It is encouraging that parenting really matters, that family matters.”
Yes, there might still be some metaphorical landmines in terms of making sure your child is happy and at a healthy weight. There are still childhood obesity risk factors that cannot be undone by even the most determined and health conscious of parents. But taking the time to provide a structured, stimulating home environment with responsive parenting is something nearly every caregiver can do for free.
“It is heartening to know that, by providing a loving, safe environment, we can reduce the risk that children will develop obesity,” Rollins concluded.