Parents should walk the walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to healthy eating and exercise, study shows

A new study highlights the influential role parents have in shaping their children's eating and exercise habits. Children of mothers who encourage them to exercise and eat well, while doing likewise themselves, are more likely to be active and healthy eaters, says a Duke University study.

Both exercise and healthy diets are critical in fighting childhood obesity, a significant problem in Kentucky, where more than one in four kids aged 2 to 5 are already overweight or obese, says a report by the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky.

At the same time parents are setting a good example for their children, they can keep themselves healthy; being overweight or obese greatly increases the risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and cancer.

The Duke study is a reminder that parents are influential role models in shaping their children's habits, whether that's good or bad. "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 Marissa Stroo, a co-investigator on the study. “This might be common sense, but now we have some evidence to support this.”

To promote healthy dietary and physical behaviors in children, a healthy home environment and parental role modeling are important, the researchers say. They recommend limiting access to junk foods, providing access to fruits and vegetables at home, setting parental policies to support family meals and increased consumption of healthy foods, and encouraging children to play outside to increase their physical activity.

“Obesity is a complex phenomenon, which is influenced by individual biological factors and behaviors,” said study author Dr. Truls Østbye, professor of community and family medicine at Duke. “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.”

These findings are important because they show that being overweight doesn't just come from your genes, and parents can be actively involved in improving the health and well-being of Kentucky's children. In this study, Østbye and his colleagues examined the relationship between the home environment and behaviors related to obesity, such as dietary and exercise habits, among 190 preschoolers. The study was published online in the International Journal of Obesity. (Read more)
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