Research encourages parents to lead by example when encouraging healthy behaviors in children.
Grownups like to ask that youngsters do as they say, not as they do. But a joint study recently conducted by the University of California–San Diego School of Medicine and the University of Minnesota suggests that when it comes to encouraging weight change in obese children, adults would do well to lead by example.
A team of researchers led by Kerri N. Boutelle, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at UC San Diego, followed 80 parent-child pairs, each with an overweight or obese child between the ages of 8 and 12, for five months.
When they tested a series of variables that might help the kids lose weight — including encouraging healthy eating, promoting physical activity, altering the home environment and achieving parental weight loss — they found that a change in the parent’s body mass index (BMI) was the only factor to have a significant impact.
The data, published online in the Journal of Obesity (Feb. 23, 2012), showed that a reduction of just one BMI point in the parent resulted in an impressive quarter-point change in the child’s BMI. (Note: BMI is a good metric when studying large groups of people, but not the best way to mark individual progress on an ongoing basis. The normal range typically varies between 18.5 and 24.9.)
“When parents lose weight, it’s an indication that they have changed their own eating and physical activity,” Boutelle says. And it turns out that, for better or worse, kids are inclined to follow in their parents’ footsteps — whether they’ll admit it or not.