What Does the Research Say? Childhood Obesity and Parental

Involvement

Over the last decade, childhood obesity has remained a serious global public health concern. This problem affects people at all levels, including the citizens of low- or middle-income countries or populations exhibiting high income levels. According to the World Health Organization (2017), the number of obese or overweight children has dramatically increased from 32 million in 1990 to 41 million in 2016. Many reasons for obesity in children exist, including a poorly chosen lifestyle, diet, a lack of physical activity, and genetics. As a rule, the family plays an important role in developing children’s eating, behavioral, and social habits that may contribute to further weight-related problems (Danford, Schultz, & Marvicsin, 2015).

Therefore, scholars and health professionals are paying significant attention to parental involvement in preventing and controlling childhood obesity. The problem is that, despite their best intentions to protect their children, many parents are lacking access to specific training programs or are not motivated to consult experts and improve their knowledge. Families must recognize opportunities and realize the significance of parental involvement in lifestyle changes for obese or overweight children in order to decrease the affected children’s body mass index and improve psychological well-being.

Brief Literature Review

Childhood obesity is a medical condition affecting millions of children and adolescents around the globe. Although its definition has changed over time, the principal concept has remained the same: obesity is characterized by an excess of body fat (Sahoo et al., 2015). Using investigations developed by the US National Center for Health Statistics and the results of their personal observations, Farpour-Lambert et al. (2015) defined childhood obesity as a chronic disease. The authors admitted that this condition requires specific steps to enhance awareness and recognize new interventions and health policies (Farpour-Lambert et al., 2015). Parents, therefore, must possess a high level of knowledge about obesity, its causes, and preventive measures to enable them to share this information with children and draw on their experience.

Obesity is characterized by serious complications in a child’s well-being, and this is in opposition to the parents’ task to protect their children by any possible means. A primary rule to keep in mind is that family characteristics and chosen parenting styles contribute to a child’s health and weight (Pandita et al., 2016; Sahoo et al., 2015). Children consume food and drinks that possess calories, and depending on the circumstances, some children’s bodies are not able to burn all the calories they ingest (Xu & Xue, 2016). Excessive consumption of high-calorie food or drinks results in an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure (Kumar & Kelly, 2017). In the modern world, specific standards have been established to identify food that is energy-dense or contains refined sugar or salt (Greydanus et al., 2018). Even when this information is made available, children usually find it difficult to control the balance or quality of their food, meaning that parents must take responsibility in this area.

Several important concepts are involved in understanding childhood obesity, including body mass index (BMI), a calculation that helps to determine the relationship between body weight and body height by dividing weight in kilograms by height in centimeters squared (Kumar & Kelly, 2017). To facilitate control, children and parents can use an online BMI calculator and check for the existence of a problem along with its scope. Taking BMI values into consideration, certain children may be classified as obese or overweight. Three standard BMI categories include obesity with >30 kg/m2, overweight falling within a range of 25-29.9 kg/m2, and normal weight falling within the range 18.5-24.9 kg/m2 (Barnes, 2015). Depending on the BMI category, each child should have access to differing care and follow varied strategies. Parents, in turn, must establish specific management goals.

Among the existing variety of interventions and strategies to help children deal with obesity, parents must recognize those most effective for their families. It is necessary to identify and analyze all available resources, consult health professionals, and continue communication via telephone or online (Randle, Okely, & Dolnicar, 2017). Parental engagement in prevention of early childhood obesity prevention is a complex process characterized by a number of organizational or personal factors; barriers may be rooted in finance and a lack of awareness of potential threats and health complications (Love, Laws, Litterbach, & Campbell, 2018). Parents are not only significant genetic contributors to a child’s weight and height, but they also provide examples of how to behave, what to eat, and how to take care of personal health and the body. Having multiple obese people in the same family may lead to genetics or traditions being used to excuse physiological changes. As a result, some parents do not perceive excess weight in their children as a health concern (Avis et al., 2015). In this case, parental neglect is a serious crime to a child’s health from ethical and healthcare points of view.

Children follow the example of their parents in choosing a lifestyle or using the opportunities parents may offer. One responsibility of parents is to provide a positive influence for how children perceive themselves in society and set expectations (Schalkwijk et al., 2015). Drawing on research by Taylor, Wilson, Slater, and Mohr, Rankin et al. (2016) explained that although parents are not usually associated with children’s dissatisfaction with their bodies, they do play a role in predetermining the self-esteem of a child. Psychological changes in children are not always easy to control, and if a parent neglects to provide help or an additional explanation when needed, the child’s emotional condition may be considerably challenged. In this light, parental care and well-developed education about weight, beauty, and health remain effective means for combating various obesogenic risk factors (Morris, Skouteris, Edwards, & Rutherford, 2014). Parents who are involved in their child’s development, share their knowledge and experience, and control the environment in which their child lives exert a positive impact on weight status that can be observed over time.

Description of the Case

Today, young parents as well as adults who are already experienced parents can improve their understanding of children’s health in a variety of ways such as reading online articles, asking questions on forums, and contacting healthcare professionals when necessary. However, despite the availability of an exciting variety of resources and opportunities, many children continue to suffer from specific health problems including obesity or overweight (Barnes, 2015). In many situations, parents may contribute to an increased BMI in their children without even realizing their error. For example, they may try to feed their children as frequently as possible because they fear that someone else might think the family is lacking food or the child is starving.

Another situation happens when parents try to meet all the demands of their children and buy sweets or drinks in accordance with childish demands. Many mothers admit that it is difficult to deal with their children viewing advertisements and wanting to try everything they see (Schalkwijk et al., 2015). Parents may believe that if they reduce frustration and crying in children by buying food or sweet drinks on demand, they are avoiding psychological problems and crises. Finally, some parents believe that if they do not impose their lifestyle on their children, the latter will avoid similar health problems or discomfort. However, in modern society, such environmental factors as television, the Internet, and freelance work are contributing to sedentary lifestyles (Sahoo et al., 2015). Thus, children who witness their parents’ lack of physical activity, eating in front of the screen, and poor food quality or calorie control will tend to believe that such behavior is normal and does not result in serious problems. Parents must predict these types of situations and consider the outcomes their children may experience later in life.

Synthesized Literature Findings

The problem of childhood obesity has been under discussion over several decades. Many effective solutions have been offered, while mistakes have also taken place. In the end, obesity in children was defined as a serious public health concern for which multiple interventions should be developed (Greydanus et al., 2018). Researchers from different parts of the world have introduced ideas for treatment of obese or overweight children, and a common recommendation has been parental involvement.

The quality of family relationships has a direct impact on weight control in children. In their discussion, Xu and Xue (2016) emphasized the importance of parent-child interactions and the establishment of the home environment. Modern lifestyle habits of families are dependent on access to technologies including television, food delivery to the home, and online shopping. As a result, people are avoiding face-to-face communication, spending more time at home, and following recommendations by relying on personal interests rather than social norms (Morris et al., 2014). Schalkwijk et al.’s (2015) results underlined that people are not motivated to participate in interventions even when directed to consider health improvement unless all expectations, barriers, and available facilitators are clarified. In other words, both parents and children may be aware of potential health problems, but they may never take steps to prevent complications without guarantees and social support.

The authors of many studies have noted the role of parents in controlling and preventing childhood obesity. For example, Avis et al. (2015), Danford et al. (2015), and Love et al. (2018) concluded that parents must establish trustful relationships with their children to promote healthy behaviors and to facilitate explaining how behavioral choices influence weight. It is not always easy for every parent to understand the needs of their children and choose the correct direction for their development. Parents should have a place to come and ask for help to ensure that their involvement in any lifestyle changes for their children can bring positive results. In response to this need, Love et al. (2018) introduced the Infant Program, which provided support to first-time parents via professional nurses and care providers along with education covering how to feed and play with children to avoid a damageable increase in weight. However, not all countries offer programs and organizations to help parents understand how their contributions to a child’s health influence weight and associated psychological changes. New studies and recommendations are required to explain parental involvement in terms of lifestyle changes and psychological factors.

Childhood is a period when numerous physiological, behavioral, and emotional changes occur. Farpour-Lambert et al. (2015) defined this season of life as a “unique window of opportunity to have a lifetime impact on health, quality of life, and prevention of disabilities” (p. 348). A child must understand that each decision or choice has consequences in terms of benefit or harm, and parents must demonstrate the best results they can achieve together. Instead of rewarding a child with food or money to be used to buy a sweet treat or a beverage, an appropriate reward might involve a small group activity, a privilege in the future, or a toy (Pandita et al., 2016). In this case, demonstrating respect and recognition will promote emotional stability, encouraging the child to protect his or her body against excessive weight or the development of sedentary habits. The role of parents should be explained as the opportunity to demonstrate an example, control, or order. Active participation of parents in a child’s life, regular meetings and communication, tourism, and other physical activities can serve as a basis for spending more time together, resulting in the best health benefits.

Case Summary

In summary, childhood obesity is not merely a public health concern to be solved by the government or some special healthcare organization. The discussion of this case has helped to reveal that parents play a vital role in a child’s perception of weight problems along with the threat of obesity. Therefore, instead of assigning to others the primary support role or the giving of information about the damage done by poor diets or a sedentary lifestyle, parents are obligated to make independent decisions, use personal examples, and motivate their children while relying on available resources and knowledge. Kumar and Kelly (2017) showed that the eating behaviors of children directly depend on the feeding styles chosen by parents. The analysis introduced by Randle et al. (2017) proved that families with obese children frequently visit doctors, which means that until obesity directly affects a family, it is never perceived as a problem. For all these reasons and evident examples, a final decision about parental involvement in childhood obesity prevention and control must be made. Parents should have sufficient knowledge to explain to their children the value of healthy eating and physical activity.

Solution

Developing one common solution may be a problematic task for many organizations and individuals. This challenge is based on a variety of personal characteristics, the inability to create identical living conditions for all families, freedom of choice, and other social, human, and environmental factors. However, the World Health Organization (2017) has specified that childhood obesity and overweight are usually a preventable condition, meaning supportive policies and fundamental rules cannot be ignored. The solution to this situation is closely connected to the ideas offered by Danford et al. (2015), who considered parenting to be a combination of activities of parents to facilitate the emotional, social, and behavioral health of children. The goal is to promote parental involvement in obesity prevention by implementing several methods and to underline the role of parents in making lifestyle changes and addressing psychological challenges in children because of obesity.

First, it is important to provide as much information as possible about the parent-child connection in the fight against obesity. Many communication channels can be applied at this stage. Findings by Randle et al. (2017) and Pandita et al. (2016) showed that the function of media in obesity development is significant because children use media as a source of information about new sweet treats, fast food, and beverages. In addition, television and the Internet are resources that directly contribute to a sedentary lifestyle in that it is possible to use them to promote negative attitudes to food and a lifestyle with no physical exercise. Promotion of healthy eating, the threat of obesity, and the inability to control weight should concern children and their parents, and television or Internet ads must serve as primary sources of evidence, offering real-life photographs, statistics, and stories.

Another critical factor for success in involving parents in their children’s weight problems is knowledge. It is usually difficult for people who have already formed habits and interests to make necessary changes. Therefore, they can find it helpful to improve their awareness of a healthy diet as well as the harm that fast food offers children and the importance of regular physical exercise. Flyers posted on streets, pamphlets in hospitals, and free handbooks in stores or game zones can be used to support parents and facilitate their participation in a healthy lifestyle for their children. When parents understand the threat of obesity and attempt to preclude its development, children will follow their example and take precautionary steps. However, if only one or two members in a family choose a healthy and obesity-free lifestyle, positive results may not always be possible to achieve because of the problems of temptation and lack of internal motivation. Therefore, parents should become the leaders in their families and guide other members in pursuing physical activity, eating healthy food, and checking BMI from time to time.

Finally, it is necessary to remember that obesity can also result from inappropriate emotions and psychological imbalance. Therefore, parents are obligated to provide their children with positive emotions, support, and a feeling of trust. The psychological well-being of a child is a primary goal for every parent. Rankin et al. (2016) investigated the relationship between obesity and psychological consequences, proving that obesity can be one reason for new psychological or psychiatric disorders in children. Parents must take urgent actions to control weight changes in the early stages of life to foresee emotional challenges and future unpredictable behaviors in children.

Conclusion

In summary, childhood obesity is both a public health concern and a personal health problem that must be solved at different levels and by a variety of means. It is necessary for parents to understand their roles in preventing negative weight changes in their children and to involve themselves in promoting a healthy lifestyle and habits. It is not always an easy task for a parent to protect a child against the harmful foods, sedentary behavior, and laziness that have become popular due to recent technological progress. In this case, parents are thus obligated to gather credible information about children’s health, become efficient examples for their children, and promote physical and psychological well-being in their families.

References

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Schalkwijk, A. A. H., Bot, S. D. M., De Vries, L., Westerman, M. J., Nijpels, G., & Elders, P. J. M. (2015). Perspectives of obese children and their parents on lifestyle behavior change: A qualitative study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 12(1), 102. Web.

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