Research links authoritarian parents to obese children

The growing epidemic of childhood obesity has worried health care providers for decades and most fingers have pointed at junk food, portion sizes and lack of exercise as causes. But a new study indicates that parenting style might play a role as well.

FOX 26 Morning News contributor and Dad 2.0 founder John Pacini explains recent findings that could shake up our perspective on childhood obesity and have parents reconsidering the health impact of their parenting style.

How large of a problem is childhood obesity?

- 17 percent of children in the U.S. are obese (which is around 13 million of them)
- Throughout the world, 42 million children are overweight or obese.
- There will be 70 million obese children in just 10 years based on current rates.

What does the study tell us about parenting style and children's health?

A Canadian university study of more than 37,000 children found that when parents are authoritarian or controlling, the likelihood of obesity in their kids increases dramatically.

When children have authoritarian parents, preschool students are 35 percent more likely to be obese, school-aged children are 41 percent more likely to be obese.

What's fascinating about the study is that it factored in elements such as processed junk food, portion sizes, and lack of physical activity. It really just focused on parenting style as the main variable.

What is it about an authoritarian parenting style that might contribute to obesity?

Researchers are still trying to determine why that is and that's the next stage of the research, but they have a few of the following early thoughts:

- The controlling style of parenting could increase stress levels in the child, which has been linked to obesity.
- Demanding parents are more likely to require children to clean their entire plate, even if the child isn't hungry anymore, known as the so-called "Clean Plate Club."
- Ironically, a lot of parents with overweight children try to micromanage their eating habits and this might actually have the opposite effect.

What's at stake with regard to children's long term health?

Significant future health risks for obese children include the following:

- Cardiovascular disease
- Early Onset of Diabetes
- Cancer
- Degenerative Joint Diseases
- Reduced self confidence
- Socially challenged
- Depression

What can parents do to reduce the intensity of their parenting style and create a healthier environment for kids, physically and mentally?

Pacini recommends they consider authoritative parenting rather than authoritarian parenting, which means setting limits and enforce rules but maintain an open dialogue, explain rationale behind rules, encourage children to ask questions and never control children through shame, guilt or denial of love.