The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Parents own weight loss best predictor of weight loss in children

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Live well

Monday, May 14, 2012

If you ever need to take a look at yourself, no mirror is necessary. Just stop and look at your children. On a daily basis my children will do something that all of a sudden I realize is something that I do. It mostly makes me laugh but then at times, cringe. Even at their young ages of three and a half and seventeen months they have picked up both the good and the not-so-good.

The good: I got home from a run that I cut short so my husband could leave for work so I continued to “jog” in place at the house. Both kids decided to imitate me—the three and half year old yelling out, “Look mom. I am exercising!” as he did a decent job of jogging in place. The 17 month old was more doing a bounce, bending her knees and popping back up but her eyes were just twinkling with delight. (Another example in the accompanying photo- My son using my resistance tubing to take his turn to “exercise” while we were at the park.)

The not-so-good: One morning I noticed them licking the syrup off of their plates after eating pancakes (made with whole wheat and sweet potato I might add)—yes a habit of mine that I am not so proud of!

With childhood overweight and obesity being of such significant concern in our nation research has looked at the role parents play in helping children to lose weight. Family based behavioral treatment programs are considered the most effective intervention strategies. Success has been demonstrated from different models such as praise for making healthy eating choices to encouraging participation in a weight loss program but most of studies have only looked at these interventions in isolation. A recent study published in Obesity looked at three skills: modeling the desired behavior (in other words, leading by example), changes in home food environment, and parenting styles and techniques (such as encouragement and praise)(1). Eighty overweight or obese children from the ages of 8 to 12 and their parent took place in this study. Out of all the factors looked at, parent BMI change was the only significant predictor of child weight loss. In other words, the number one way that parents could help their children to lose weight was to lose weight themselves. Parents play a tremendous role in shaping their children’s behaviors and as this and other studies have shown, especially through their own behavior—that mirror effect. The results even suggest that treatment focusing only on the parents (parent-only treatment) may be enough to cause significant weight loss in their children that is how powerful modeling is. The authors of the study are quick to point out that an absence of significance in the other factors does not mean that they do not have a potential impact as well, just that in this case; modeling had the most powerful effect. Further studies are needed to look at these skills and how they work in combination with one another.

So I will be sure to do my best to continue to model the good and work on the not-so-good. As parents we only want to do what’s best for our children and often that means doing what’s best for ourselves. Be sure to check out some of our tools such as the “Calorie Needs Calculator” and the “Calories Burned Calculator” to help get you started with your weight loss today. You will not only be affecting your life but more than likely the lives of the people and little ones you love as well.

  1. Boutelle KN, Cafri G, Crow SJ. Parent predictors of child weight change in family based behavioral obesity treatment. Obesity (2012); Advance online publication 15 March 2012. doi:10.1038/oby.2012.48.