The Role of Parents in Preventing Childhood Obesity

As researchers continue to analyze the role of parenting both in the development of childhood overweight and in obesity prevention, studies of child nutrition and growth are detailing the ways in which parents affect their children's development of food- and activity-related behaviors. Ana Lindsay, Katarina Sussner, Juhee Kim, and Steven Gortmaker argue that interventions aimed at preventing childhood overweight and obesity should involve parents as important forces for change in their children's behaviors.

The authors begin by reviewing evidence on how parents can help their children develop and maintain healthful eating and physical activity habits, thereby ultimately helping prevent childhood overweight and obesity. They show how important it is for parents to understand how their roles in preventing obesity change as their children move through critical developmental periods, from before birth and through adolescence. They point out that researchers, policymakers, and practitioners should also make use of such information to develop more effective interventions and educational programs that address childhood obesity right where it starts—at home.

The authors review research evaluating school-based obesity-prevention interventions that include components targeted at parents. Although much research has been done on how parents shape their children's eating and physical activity habits, surprisingly few high-quality data exist on the effectiveness of such programs. The authors call for more programs and cost-effectiveness studies aimed at improving parents' ability to shape healthful eating and physical activity behaviors in their children.

The authors conclude that preventing and controlling childhood obesity will require multifaceted and community-wide programs and policies, with parents having a critical role to play. Successful intervention efforts, they argue, must involve and work directly with parents from the earliest stages of child development to support healthful practices both in and outside of the home.