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Do Very Strict Parents Raise Fat Kids?

Wichita East High School junior Daisy Ruiz purchases a brown sugar Pop-Tart from a vending machine in the hallway outside the school cafeteria in Wichita, Kan., Wednesday, May 3, 2006. In another step in the war against childhood obesity and junk food in schools, the nation's largest beverage distributors say they will stop selling non-diet sodas to schools and start serving reduced sizes of other drinks. (AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, Mike Hutmacher)
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Researchers are looking into whether parenting style affects kids' weight.

The June issue of the journal Pediatrics includes a study on the topic, done by Kyung Rhee, M.D., of Boston University's pediatrics department, and colleagues.

They found that young children who received love and clear limits from their parents were less likely to be overweight in first grade than those whose parents had exhibited permissive, authoritarian, or neglectful parenting styles at the study's start.

Obesity is a serious problem for American children. The CDC estimates 17 percent of U.S. children aged 2 to 17 were overweight in 2003-2004.

In their study, Rhee's team following 872 children and their mothers. The researchers assessed parenting style when the kids were about 4½ years old, then checked the kids' weight two years later.

They found that children of the mothers judged to be authoritarian were more than four times more likely to be overweight at that point than children whose mothers set firm limits but also showed warmth and sensitivity to the child.

The link between obesity and parenting style doesn't mean parenting style determined the kids' weight. Many other issues — including cultural influences — need to be studied, the researchers note.

About The Study

All the moms were healthy, at least 18 years old, and could understand English. Most were living with a spouse or partner, but their spouses and partners didn't participate in the study.

More than eight in 10 of the kids were white. About half were boys.

When the children were about 4½ years old, researchers videotaped them (with permission) interacting with their moms performing several tasks in a lab. The mothers also completed a survey about their expectations for their child's self-control.

Survey questions included:

  • How often do you expect your child to sit or play quietly (or refrain from interrupting) while adults are having a conversation?
  • How often do you expect your child to go to bed without a hassle?
  • How often do you expect your child to be on "best behavior" when you are in public?
  • How often do you expect your child to wait his or her turn without fussing?

    Four Parenting Styles

    The researchers focused on four parenting styles:

    Authoritative: Parent shows high demands for the child's self-control but also shows the child a lot of warmth and sensitivity.

    Authoritarian: Parent shows high demands for the child's self-control, but low levels of warmth and sensitivity.

    Permissive: Parent shows low demands for the child's self-control and lots of warmth and sensitivity.

    Neglectful: Parent shows low demands for the child's self-control and little warmth and sensitivity to the child.