Saturday, June 18, 2016

Causes of childhood obesity complex, but families, media play key roles

Public Release: 19-Apr-2016
Causes of childhood obesity complex, but families, media play key roles
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Children's genetic risks for obesity may be reduced by interventions that strengthen family communication and help children manage their emotions and feelings of satiety, according to a new review of research on the problem.

Although the causes of obesity are complex, families have significant influence on children's dietary habits and weight, and should be involved in planning healthy living campaigns and efforts to curb food marketing that targets children, suggest the study's authors, Barbara H. Fiese and Kelly K. Bost, both with the University of Illinois.


Published recently in the journal Family Relations, the paper by Fiese and Bost indicated that shared family meals provide powerful opportunities to promote and model healthy eating behaviors and reduce children's likelihood of developing eating disorders or weight problems.

"Family communication is key to the developmental processes that promote - or disrupt - healthy eating habits, physical activity and internal cues to satiety," said Fiese, who is the center's director as well as a professor of human development and family studies. "Families who routinely engage in positive forms of direct communication and show genuine concern about each other's activities also have children who are less likely to be overweight or obese, or engage in unhealthy eating habits."


Parenting styles, parent-child attachment relationships and feeding practices all have been found to be reliable indicators of children's food consumption, eating behaviors and risks for obesity. However, experts often don't involve parents when planning healthy-living campaigns for fear that parents will feel they are being blamed for their children's weight problems, according to the study.

Parents who are indulgent - those who are not very demanding and are highly responsive to their children's desires - tend to have children who eat fewer fruits and vegetables and more foods with high levels of sugar and fat, Fiese and Bost report.


Researchers have found that using electronic media while dining increases children's risks for obesity as well, and Fiese and Bost hypothesize that there may be several reasons for this effect. Focusing on TV shows, text messages or other media may impede the positive communication and social interaction that promote healthy dietary habits. Adults may forego opportunities to model healthy eating habits such as portion control and be less attentive to what their children are consuming, the researchers said.

Studies also have found that people who are engrossed in watching TV or using their computers tend to eat mindlessly, consuming greater amounts of unhealthy foods and ignoring feelings of fullness, Fiese and Bost report.

Another hazard associated with electronic media usage during meals is that it increases children's exposure to food commercials and advergames - video games created as product-marketing vehicles, oftentimes to whet young viewers' appetites for unhealthy foods such as sugary snacks, cereals or soda, Fiese and Bost wrote.

Both the Institute of Medicine and World Health Organization have identified the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt as an important causal factor in childhood obesity, Fiese and Bost report.


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