Your Child Is What You Eat

Parents of overweight teens play important role in weight management with food practices

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Parents may feel frustrated trying to help their obese teenagers control their weight. Restricting their food may seem like a good option, but it can backfire.

A recent study investigated parents' food practices with their teenagers.

The researchers found that overweight and obese teens' parents were more likely to try to restrict their food. However, this tactic might not help.

A better route is for those parents to model healthy eating practices and to have regular family meals with nutritious food, the authors wrote.

"Model healthy eating behaviors for your kids."

The study, led by Katie A. Loth, RD, MPH, of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, aimed to see how parents' practices related to food affected their teenagers' weight.

The researchers conducted two studies involving 2,231 teenagers and 3,431 of their parents.

The parents completed questionnaires about different behavioral practices related to food and their children.

They were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with a selection of statements related to two specific types of practices.

One practice was restricting food from teenagers, not allowing them to eat certain items or a specific quantity. The other practice was basically the opposite: pressuring them to eat more food or certain kinds of food.

The parents' responses were then analyzed along with data about their teenagers that included their age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic background and body mass index (BMI).

BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight that is used to determine if that individual is overweight, underweight or a healthy weight.

The researchers found that many parents do report attempting to control, at least in part, the type of food or amount of food their teens eat.

Some of the findings appeared predictable: "For example, significantly more mothers of non-overweight adolescent girls indicated agreement with the statement that 'My child should always eat all food on his/her plate' compared with mothers of overweight and obese adolescent girls."

Meanwhile, 73 to 81 percent of parents who had obese teens said they "had to be sure their child did not eat too many high-fat foods or sweets." This percentage was significantly lower among parents of normal weight and overweight teens.

The researchers also found that fathers of overweight and obese boys were more likely to agree with the statement “If I did not guide or regulate my child’s eating [he] would eat too many junk foods” than fathers of non-overweight boys.

Overall, attempts to restrict their child's eating were more common among parents of overweight or obese teens.

While this may not sound surprising, the relationship between the child's weight and the parents' practices is not necessarily straight forward.

Past research has shown that food restrictions can occur before a child gains too much weight, so the link here may not be as simple as a parent trying to restrict a child's food because they're already overweight.

The researchers suggest that, basically, the relationship probably works both ways.

"The relationship between parental restriction and child weight status is likely to be bidirectional," they wrote. "That is, whereas high levels of food restriction have been shown to lead to an increase in child weight status, parents of overweight and obese adolescents are more likely to adopt restrictive parenting practices in an effort to help curb their child’s food intake."

The researchers suggested that instead of trying to restrict teens' diets or encourage them to eat certain foods, parents should try practices that have shown to be more effective in weight management.

"It is recommended that that parents of adolescents engage in behaviors known to protect against weight gain, including eating regular family meals, making nutritious food items readily available within the home, modeling healthy food choices, and encouraging their adolescent’s autonomy in self-regulation of food intake," the authors wrote.

The study was published April 22 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. One author has previously received research funding from Alkermes and Shire. No other conflicts of interest were noted.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 18, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013