redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Mothers who practice what they preach when it comes to being active and making healthy food choices are more likely to have children who exercise and eat well, according to research published online Tuesday by the International Journal of Obesity.
In the study, Truls Ã˜stbye, a professor of community and family medicine at Duke University, and his colleagues report that their findings should serve as a reminder to both mothers and fathers that they serve as role models for their sons and daughters.
Furthermore, they claim that the research emphasizes the importance of parental policies that promote physical activity and healthy eating — especially for younger children. In fact, over one-fourth of all US kids between the ages of two and five are already overweight or obese, the Duke investigators noted.
“Obesity is a complex phenomenon, which is influenced by individual biological factors and behaviors,” explained Ã˜stbye. “But there are variations in obesity from one society to another and from one environment to another, so there is clearly something in the environment that strongly influences the obesity epidemic.”
“The ‘obesiogenic’ environment is broad and multi-faceted, including the physical neighborhood environment, media and advertising, and food tax policies, but we feel that the home environment is critical, particularly among children. However, we didn’t have a lot of evidence as to how important this was,” he added.
To emphasize how important both home environment and parental behavior were in shaping the dietary and physical behaviors of children, Ã˜stbye and his colleagues studied data from 190 preschool children whose mothers were overweight or obese.
They collected information about each child´s food intake over the past week, separating them into two categories: junk food or healthy food. In addition, the children were outfitted with accelerometers for a week in order to measure the amount of time they were physically active (as well as the time they spent performing sedentary tasks).
The mothers also disclosed information about the home environment, including family policies governing food and physical activity, the availability of both health food and junk food, the availability of physical activity or exercise equipment, and whether or not they served as role models for healthy eating and exercise habits.
After analyzing all of the data, Ã˜stbye´s team “found significant associations between these environmental measures and the preschoolers’ physical activity and healthy versus junk food intake,” the Durham, North Carolina university said. They concluded that a healthy home environment and effective parental role modeling both play an essential role in promoting healthy behaviors in youngsters between the ages of two and five.
The study authors report that limiting the amount of junk food available to preschoolers at home increases the amount of healthy foods that those boys and girls will eat, and that the home environment was more influential when it came to eating habits than physical activity levels. They also emphasize that the research demonstrates that children are watching their parents´ behaviors and are picking up both good and bad habits from mom and dad.
“It’s hard for parents to change their behaviors, but not only is this important for you and your own health; it is also important for your children because you are a role model for them,” said Duke research analyst and study co-investigator Marissa Stroo. “This might be common sense, but now we have some evidence to support this.”
Ã˜stbye, Stroo and colleagues also analyzed the education levels, employment situation and other socioeconomic factors of the mothers. They found that those factors did not impact their children´s physical activity levels, but had “mixed results” when it came to healthy eating habits. The researchers point out that additional research is needed to better understand the impact that a mother´s socioeconomic situation has on her children´s health.