NOTE: The following is an excerpt from TeleVox’s Healthy World report, “The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: Poor Health Habits Threaten the Future of America’s Youth”, which exposes the need for more interaction between doctors and parents to combat childhood obesity. Download it HERE!
One of the greatest gifts in life is becoming a parent. It provides many happy memories: from experiencing the birth of a child, to seeing them light up a stage in a school play and succeed through graduation. However, being a parent also comes with many responsibilities, which differ for mothers and fathers. While fathers are often seen as the disciplinarians and coaches, mothers are often viewed as nurturers. However, both mothers and fathers are responsible for the health of their children, and this is something that needs more attention from many parents as childhood obesity becomes more prevalent.
But the rise in obesity rates among children cannot be attributed to a lack of concern among parents. According to The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: Poor Health Habits Threaten the Future of America’s Youth, 66 percent of mothers and 64 percent of fathers believe that childhood obesity is a significant problem in the U.S., and 34 percent of fathers and 30 percent of mothers feel that their child could benefit from losing weight. Additionally, 34 percent of parents said they are currently concerned with their children’s eating habits. Something has to be done to turn this concern into an active, healthy change in children’s lives.
Mothers Plan the Menus
While both parents are obviously concerned with their children’s health, more times than not it is the mother that holds more responsibility for managing a child’s health. Mothers typically are responsible for managing the healthcare for their families. It is also common for mothers to handle the grocery shopping and meal preparation — both for school lunches and dinner times. However, many women must balance these responsibilities with full-time jobs and other commitments. Since The Childhood Obesity Epidemic reports that 20 percent of mothers feel they could do a better job of providing healthy food options for their children, this balancing act continues to be a struggle in today’s society.
Fathers’ Food Decisions
But this doesn’t mean that fathers have no impact on their children’s health. According to a study done by Texas AgriLife Research, fathers’ decisions on food — whether healthy or unhealthy — tend to have a more lasting effect on their children than a mother’s decision. The study, which was conducted over a 15-month period, found that when fathers choose to feed their children unhealthy foods—or eat out at restaurants—it is often seen as a treat. On the contrary, when mothers feed their children on the run, or swing through a drive-thru, it is because they are trying to balance a hectic schedule. And The Childhood Obesity Epidemic supports this theory, as 93 percent of healthcare providers feel that fast food consumption is a significant contributor to childhood obesity. Additionally, 22 percent of fathers (and 21 percent of mothers) feed their children fast food twice per week. Choosing a healthy alternative — packing a lunch ahead of time or making time for healthier meals at home — has to be a conscious effort on the part of parents.
Turning to Providers for Help
So where can parents turn to get additional help in promoting healthier lifestyles for their children? More men than women feel that communications from their doctor and healthcare provider would help in managing their children’s weight, as reported by The Childhood Obesity Epidemic. Fifty-eight percent of fathers, compared with 48 percent of mothers, said they would be happy and/or interested to receive communications from their doctor between visits with tips on managing their child’s weight. Information that healthcare providers can provide include some of the reminders found on the Let’s Move! Child website:
- Provide 1-2 hours of physical activity throughout the day, including outside play when possible.
- Strive to limit the amount of screen time to just 1-2 hours per day for children over the age of two, including that at child care. Children under age two should not see any screen time.
- Serve fruits and vegetables at every meal and eat as a family at the dinner table as often as possible.
- Provide water during meals and throughout the day. Turn to 1% and low-fat milk instead of sugary drinks whenever possible.
The good news is that both fathers and mothers attribute this growth in children’s waistlines to controllable influences: diet and exercise. As The Childhood Obesity Epidemic reported, the vast majority of American parents — 91 percent of mothers and 88 percent of fathers — believe that poor diet and exercise habits, and not genetics, are the biggest causes of childhood obesity. The sad part about this is that parents aren’t doing enough to help their children out. Forty-seven percent of mothers and 45 percent of fathers report that not eating enough healthy foods is the biggest cause of childhood obesity, and four in ten parents (41 percent of mothers and 40 percent of fathers) said they could do a better job of providing healthy food options for their children. Parents are admitting that they should and could do a better job, but it just isn’t happening often enough.
Taking time to communicate with healthcare providers can help parents tackle childhood obesity. As reported by The Childhood Obesity Epidemic, 32 percent of healthcare providers believe that emails with personalized tips from doctors between visits would help their patients better manage their overall life. Healthcare providers can play a big part in helping parents curtail childhood obesity by providing regular feedback and advice necessary to help parents and their children make healthy lifestyle choices.