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:
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.