Is obesity in children more about genes or bad parenting?

The following seems to true: Parents who seriously work out and watch what they eat rarely have obese kids.

And it also seems as though nearly every obese child’s parents are also quite heavy, or if they’re not overweight, they appear very out of shape from a fitness standpoint.

Fat Kids: Fat Genes or Irresponsible Parents?

Arizona State University’s Dept. of Psychology researchers want to investigate this situation, to see if improved parenting skills might have a redeeming effect on weight control in kids.

  • Seventeen percent of American children six to 11 are obese.
  • Nine percent ages two to five are obese.
  • The U.S. is chockful of opportunities for physical activity. There is no shortage of courts or athletic programs for children.

Rich Kids, not just Poor, Are Obese

Though obesity is more common in kids from low-income households, don’t forget that it’s more expensive to eat large quantities of cheap junk food than portion-controlled amounts of healthy foods.

Budget-conscious parents don’t need to buy pricey bottled water, gourmet tuna plates or organic blueberries to prevent obesity in their children.

Cady Berkel, associate research professor of psychology, and Justin D. Smith, assistant professor at Northwestern University, are the lead investigators of the Family Check-Up 4 Health program.

Berkel and Smith are reaching out to kids two to eight to receive the FCU4Health’s integrated primary care and behavioral health services.

“The FCU4Health program is a unique childhood-obesity prevention program because it focuses on the parents to reach the kids,” explains Berkel in a press release.

How the Program Works

 An onsite health coordinator meets with the parents and kids.
 The parents are taught skills that will help them apply a pediatrician’s advice.
 An example of a skill would be refusing to give a temperamental child ice cream to quiet her down.
 Another parenting skill that’s taught is that of setting limits on screen time.

The USDA is funding the five-year, $2.5 million intervention which began in 2018.

Changes Parents Can Make to Correct or Prevent Obesity in Their Kids

“The best time to start working on obesity prevention is as early as possible!” says Dr. Lisa Lewis, MD, a board certified pediatrician in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of “Feed the Baby Hummus, Pediatrician-Backed Secrets from Cultures Around the World.”

“Ideally, breastfeeding an infant and starting unprocessed, healthy foods as purees when the baby begins to eat helps promote healthy lifelong habits.

“But, don’t despair — parents can start healthy habits for their family at any age. Healthy habits for the children are beneficial for the entire family.

“For children who are sedentary, I recommend starting exercise as a family.

PE in school 2-3 times per week is good, but often does not promote the exercise needed outside of school.

“Most children will not enjoy exercise if ‘forced,’ so make the activity enjoyable.

“A good start would be evening walks at least five times per week. Look for fun activities like playing in the park, nature hikes or swimming.

“The first step for healthy eating is to remove unhealthy foods from the home. Foods such as processed sugar, complex carbohydrates and unhealthy fats are eaten less when not available.

“Stop all sugar drinks, unless the child is having one as an occasional treat.

“Instead of focusing on what a child ‘can’t have,’ focus on the good foods available.

“A diet high in fiber is good for the body and helps prevent hunger, so ensure the child eats plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.

“Dairy is important for a growing body. The two best drinks are milk and water.

“Add protein in the form of lean meats, eggs and nuts (nut pastes if the child is less than six to prevent choking).

“A child does need carbohydrates, but they should be given in moderation. For example, many children love crackers but they shouldn’t be eating them all day.

“Again, an occasional ‘unhealthy’ treat is not detrimental. If a child feels the family diet is too restrictive, they are likely to sneak food outside the home, such as at school or a friend’s house. This is not healthy behavior and can lead to binge eating.”

If you’re inclined to blame childhood obesity on genetics — ask yourself how many of the above ground rules you’ve been adhering to.

Having 20+ years’ experience, Dr. Lewis completed her pediatrics residency at Texas A&M University Health Science Center, Scott and White Memorial Hospital. For two years afterward she was assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Texas A&M University Health Science Center.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: Gaulsstin, CreativeCommons