Did you know that parental obesity affects child development?


Overweight parents with her son walking together.

Everyone is aware that there is an obesity epidemic going on. But did you know that this epidemic, when present in parents of young children can and does affect child development. I would also state from experience, that it affects children behaviorally.

In over 30 years of experience I have noticed that overweight and obese parents refuse to get on the floor with their small children to interact and engage. This leads to a managerial style of interaction, rather than a mutual exploring and engaging time. Parents will tend to limit the exploration area available to their child so they don’t have to expend energy getting them away from things that may be dangerous. With the arrival of texting and and smartphone usage, there has been a significant decrease in communication negatively affecting a child’s language development. Being otherwise engaged away from their child, they don’t understand how mishaps occur, punishing their child when love, attention, and support is needed.

Now, I am not trying to shame obese people for their weight. I am, like the parents, obese. I am a product of the frozen food and fast food generation who looked for quick means of eating, rather spending the time creating healthy meals. With the start of 2017 I am working to turn that around, however. But this isn’t about my weight. It is about children and engagement. Despite being obese, I have always modeled and encouraged parents to get on the floor with me and their child. I have worked to show them activities that will encourage communication, motor skills, and thinking skills, all while sitting on the floor. I have also had them watch from the floor, with smartphones put away, as their child explores the room, the toys and anything else that is not dangerous. I ask the parents to notice the child manipulating objects, testing theories of balance with blocks, and imitating social interactions with stuffed toys like he has experienced.

Parents need a great deal of help and encouragement to understand the needs of their developing children. Modeling the behaviors, whether you are thin or not, is important since it is the modeling that shows them how to be a support to their child. If we can add in support for a change in eating lifestyle, that will also improve the life of the child.

Pediatrics just published a study on the effects of Parental Obesity and Child Development which you may find useful.

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