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Clinical and Research News
Dads' Parenting Styles May Raise Child's Obesity Risk
Psychiatric News
Volume 42 Number 12 page 20-20

Childhood obesity is growing around the world at an alarming rate. One can hear about it on American, German, or French television. One can read about it in the scientific literature. For example, researchers at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, recently found that more than a fifth of Australian preschool children are overweight or obese.

The epidemic is sparking scientific interest in the psychological impact of being overweight on youngsters. and prompting a hunt for causes. Candidates include a superabundance of fast-food restaurants serving gargantuan proportions, not enough exercise, and certain personality and behavior traits (Psychiatric News, September 16, 2005; May 18). And now an Australian study suggests that dads could be contributing to childhood obesity as well.

The study was conducted by Melissa Wake, M.D., an associate professor of community child health at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, and colleagues. She reported findings at a meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Toronto in May. Results are also in press with Pediatrics.

The study included nearly 5,000 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds and their parents. Fifteen percent of the children were overweight or obese, according to body mass index (BMI) measurements. Forty percent of the mothers and 60 percent of the fathers were themselves overweight or obese, according to BMI measurements.

Mothers and fathers completed scales assessing parental behavior, and depending on what they had reported on the scales, each parent was categorized as having an authoritative, permissive, or disengaged parenting style.

After taking the parents' BMI status into consideration, Wake and her coworkers attempted to see whether there was any relationship between both fathers' and mothers' parenting styles and their children's BMI status. The answer was no regarding mothers, but yes regarding fathers. Those fathers who had a permissive or a disengaged parenting style were significantly more likely to have heavier children than were the fathers who set clear limits.

"This study of a large cross-section of Australian preschoolers has, for the first time, suggested that fathers could be at the front line in preventing early childhood obesity," Wake concluded in a prepared statement. "Mothers are often blamed for their children's obesity, but this study suggests that for more effective prevention, perhaps we should focus on the whole family."

The study will be posted at<http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/>.

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