Parents are key when it comes to shaping children’s diet and physical activity. Moms and dads not only model eating, exercise and other health habits, they are also the gatekeepers for what food is served at home and what sports or other activities are available to the family. These influences likely have a profound effect on a child’s weight and therefore their weight as an adult. And kids who grow into adults with obesity are then at a higher risk for many cancers, including colorectal, postmenopausal breast and liver.
But according to a new review published in Pediatrics, there’s little research to understand the specific role that fathers play in a child’s weight. In this review of over 200 childhood obesity prevention trials, fathers represented only 6% of parents involved in the studies.
The authors cite previous research showing that fathers play a critical role in kids’ exercise and eating. Dads may spend more time playing with their children and they also engage in family physical activity more often and in a different way than moms do. One study found that two eating behaviors – how often dads choose fast food restaurants and how important they think family dinner time is – link to their children’s fast-food consumption.
If efforts to address childhood obesity do not include fathers or both parents, long term success to stem the obesity epidemic seems unlikely. Currently 1 in 3 children have overweight or obesity in the US according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Having research to understanding dad’s role in their child’s health is crucial for public health strategies, but there are some common sense steps that dads – and all parents – can tackle now, at home, to help children develop habits that promote health now and into the adulthood.
Get the whole family involved by joining AICR’s free 12-week healthy weight program, the New American Plate Challenge starting next week. Sign up today!
- Commit to setting up a healthy kitchen at home. Start by stocking the fridge with colorful, ready to eat fruits and vegetables. For more specific strategies, check out our blog on how to build a cancer-fighting fridge.
- Make some type of physical activity a priority every day. You can start with this: every 30 minutes, take 2-minute family activity breaks during screen time – do jumping jacks, pushups, marching in place or head outside and jump rope. Take turns choosing the activity.
- Take time for family meals at least a few days each week. The family cook of the day selects the healthy menu. A simple meal, like baked chicken, sweet potato and steamed vegetables, shows children that balanced, healthy meals are important and a key part of family life. Making familiar foods new ways or trying new foods can be a family project by searching recipes or learning about a dish from another culture. For some great ideas to introduce kids to healthy foods, see yesterday’s blog from Melissa Halas-Liang.
Changing habits doesn’t happen overnight, but making the healthy changes fun and keeping kids involved will help. What are some ways your family stays healthy together?