Role Models: How Do Parents Influence Child Diet Habits?

Not only are you a major role model for your kids, but family wellness actually depends on it. This is according to researchers at Duke Medicine who found that children whose mums encourage them to exercise and eat well, and model those healthy behaviours themselves, are more likely to be active and healthy eaters. The results of the study, published June 18th in the International Journal of Obesity, show that your behaviour and parental policies are all-important to your child’s wellbeing.

According to study author Truls -stbye, M.D., PhD, professor of community and family medicine at Duke, ‘Obesity is a complex phenomenon, which is influenced by individual biological factors and behaviours. But there are variations in obesity from one society to another and from one environment to another, so there is clearly something in the environment that strongly influences the obesity epidemic.’ He continued, ‘The “obesiogenic” environment is broad and multi-faceted, including the physical neighbourhood environment, media and advertising, and food tax policies, but we feel that the home environment is critical, particularly among children. However, we didn’t have a lot of evidence as to how important this was.’

For the study, the researchers measured the dietary and activity behaviours of 190 children, aged two to five, whose mothers were overweight or obese. The mothers reported on the home environment, such as family policies around food and physical activity, accessibility of healthy and unhealthy foods, availability of physical activity equipment, and whether they model healthy eating or exercise for their kids. While the home environment didn’t have much of an impact on children’s physical activity levels, limiting access to junk foods at home and parental policies supporting family meals increased the amount of healthy foods that children ate.

The study should serve as a reminder that your children are always watching and learning from your behaviour, which can be a positive and a negative thing! Marissa Stroo, a co-investigator on the study, commented, ‘It’s hard for parents to change their behaviours, but not only is this important for you and your own health; it is also important for your children because you are a role model for them. This might be common sense, but now we have some evidence to support this.’

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