Parents cause child obesity

26 May

Child obesity is a major problem in industrialized nations, increasing two to three fold in the last decade. Child obesity leads to adult obesity, along with high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, social scorn, and premature death.

A growing body of research pinpoints the role of parents who unknowingly contribute to the problem — often by their efforts to restrict food consumption by their children. How can this be? The Center for Childhood Obesity Reserach at Penn State demonstrated that parents restrict access to unhealthy foods, pressure kids to each fruits and veggetables, and limit intake of total food. This results in greater child preferences for restricted fatty and sweetened foods. See this paper for an example.

Behavioral economists have long focused on unintended consequences. Infants are born with the ability to self-regulate their caloric intake. Parents unknowingly override these mechanisms and teach kids to love the most harmful products. A better parental approach is to provide access to fruits and veggies in the household, and to model correct behavior by letting kids see them eating the right foods in proper  portion sizes. “Do as I do” trumps “do as I say,” regardless of good intentions.


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