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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
Child's weight linked to parents
Overweight people
The role of parents may play a role, say researchers
Parents play a key role in determining whether or not their children become overweight, according to a study.

Researchers in the United States followed 150 children from the time they were born until they were nine.

Writing in the Journal of Paediatrics, they said those with overweight parents were much more likely to become overweight themselves.

They also found that the way parents dealt with child tantrums and their attitudes to thinness played a role.

Risk factors

The researchers identified a number of risk factors for children becoming overweight, the biggest of which was having overweight parents.

Overall, 64% of children with overweight parents were overweight themselves. This compares to 16% of those with parents with a healthy weight.

None of these findings are particularly surprising but it is fascinating to see science backing them up
Dr Ian Campbell,
National Obesity Forum
The temperament of the child also played a role. Those who were highly emotional and prone to tantrums over food were more likely to become overweight.

"Parents faced with an emotional child who has tantrums over food may feed the child to reduce the frequency of tantrums," the researchers said.

The study also found that parents who were concerned that their babies would become overweight were more likely to have overweight children.

The researchers suggested that this may be because they try to control their child's eating habits too much and prevent them from learning healthy eating habits.

Another risk factor was sleep. The study found children who were overweight slept about 30 minutes less each day compared to those who were not overweight.

The researchers suggested this was because these children had less energy to run around and burn off calories.

They added: "Children with low activity may sleep less during the day because they are less tired."

The study found no evidence to suggest that breastfeeding babies protects them against becoming overweight. Previous studies have suggested there may be a link.

'Faulty behaviours'

The researchers said many of the negative influences can be addressed by educating parents and children.

"Parental attitudes toward their child's weight may lead to behaviours that increase the risk of their child becoming overweight. Such faulty behaviours may be amenable to change.

"Similarly, children's behaviours such as temper tantrums and the behaviours posed by the highly emotional child, which in turn may lead to overfeeding, are amenable to parental counselling through the use of well-documented effective child treatment procedures."

Dr Ian Campbell, chairman of the UK's National Obesity Forum, welcomed the study.

"We have some long-held beliefs about why children are overweight but not all of them are backed up by science," he told BBC News Online.

"None of these findings are particularly surprising but it is fascinating to see science backing them up."

He added: "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that child who is overweight is eating too much and exercising too little.

"But what this study shows is that we need to dig deeper to find out why children are acting in that way."


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