The Link Between Children's Obesity & Parents' Eating & Exercise Habits


Obesity among children and teens has become a serious problem in the United States. A child who weighs at least 10 percent more than the recommended weight for her height and body type is considered obese, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). More than one third of chlidren and adolescents were obese in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parental habits can be an influence in children’s obesity.

Parental Habits

  • The poem, “Children Learn What They Live,” by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D., might be particularly true when it comes to eating and exercise habits. Parental habits related to food purchase, meal preparation, eating habits and exercise influence children of all ages, according to an August 2008 article in “Today’s Dietician.” Parents who keep prepared snack foods on hand rather than fruits and vegetables and who eat these snacks themselves send the message that such foods are appropriate for children as well. When large portions are the norm for both adults and children, weight gain is more likely.

Genetics and Obesity

  • When a child is obese between the ages of 10 and 13, she has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult, according to AACAP. Genetics as well as parental habits, however, can affect a child’s chances of becoming obese. Parental obesity, which is a reflection of the parents’ eating and exercise habits, increases the likelihood that children will become obese. Children with one obese parent have a 50 percent chance of becoming obese. Children whose parents are both obese have an 80 percent chance of becoming obese themselves.

Food and Emotions

  • Parents can affect the way their children eat in many ways, according to MedlinePlus. A child who is instructed to eat everything on her plate, for example, learns to ignore her body’s cues and eat even when she is full. Some parents use food to reward desired behavior, which can lead to the child wanting to eat whenever she does something she thinks she is supposed to do. Children can also interpret food rewards as a sign of parental love. A parent who eats when she is sad or otherwise feeling emotional teaches a child to do the same thing.

Media and Obesity

  • Exercise and media are linked in today’s society, primarily because media use tends to displace exercise. Adults who watch a great deal of television tend to teach their children to do the same. In addition, children who watch television programs are exposed to many food commercials and people often snack when watching TV. For children and adolescents, recommends no more than two hours of media use -- which includes computers, video games, television and cell phones -- per day.

Promoting Healthy Behaviors

  • Parents can also promote healthy eating and exercise behaviors. Children who go shopping and help in food preparation, for example, learn the nutritional differences between apples and cookies. When the usual after-dinner activity is a brisk walk instead of TV, both parents and children benefit. Mealtime routines, such as eating dinner as a family -- without electronic devices or the television -- limit children’s exposure to food advertising and encourage family interactions which offer an opportunity to provide children with love and support.


  • Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images
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