Parents: The Weakest Link in the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

A wide variety of studies released this summer showed that children in all U.S. age groups are gaining too much weight, including babies.

One-third of children and teens are either overweight or about to become overweight. Nutrition experts, after looking over these studies, point to the parents as being the single most important factor.

Most overweight children also have at least one parent who is overweight. The children learn unhealthy behaviors from their parents at an early age. Mothers and fathers may encourage their kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, but the message doesn't come through unless the parents also do so themselves.

According to a survey of almost 1,500 children conducted by the America On The Move Foundation, 71 percent of children get information about how to be healthy from their mothers and 43 percent get such information from their fathers. Two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese.

Problems with home meal planning can include too many servings of sodas and sugary drinks, too much packaged and fast food, not enough fruits and vegetables, mixed messages from day to day about food choices, and no coherent meal schedule.

Obesity leads to an increased risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and other health problems.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The Institute of Medicine report the linked USA Today article is based on does spread the responsibility around among government, industry, media, communities, schools and the home environment.

But children are especially influenced in both good ways and bad ones by their parents. So, it should come as no surprise that nutritional experts believe, as I do, that controlling the childhood obesity epidemic depends on the parental guidance -- or lack of it -- kids receive at home.

And no wonder, considering so many time-starved young parents have grown up in a fast-food world and are passing their bad habits along to their children.

You'd think that knowledge would make parents more aware about all the outside influences, including TV, that conspire to keep kids obese, but apparently it doesn't. Perhaps one quote sums it up the best:

"All of us need to do something about it. When it comes to [obesity], we cannot put a Band-Aid on it anymore."

Don't expect your government to do anything about the obesity epidemic, especially in your home. But there are things you can do today to make your child's transition to better eating habits an easier one:

Parents need to step in and set guidelines as to how much TV their children should watch and also encourage them to participate in sports or other physical activities instead of watching TV. They need to set an example by preparing and eating nutritious meals at home. It is possible to do so even on a tight budget.

It will, however, require a commitment of time and effort. People often turn to fast food and packaged meals because they are easier and quicker. But isn't the health of your children -- and, for that matter, your own health -- worth a certain amount of time and effort?

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