Parental Involvement—Key to Weight Loss in Kids

Parents have tremendous power to create a lifestyle and environment that helps children maintain a healthy weight long term.
Key to Weight Loss in Kids

Parents who engage the entire family improve the chances of long-term weight loss success for all family members.1 Healthy families have healthy children. Members of healthy families feel "connected" and close to each other. Parents influence children, parents affect each other and children help parents to make positive changes. In one classic study, children who were the most successful in managing their weight tended to come from supportive families with good interaction between the family members. 2

Children thrive on the structure that their parents create. Knowingly or unknowingly, parents are the driving force behind the family's eating and activity patterns. They decide which foods are available at home, where and when foods can be eaten in the house, and which activities children can participate in.

Maintaining a healthy weight involves the entire family, not just the child or parent with weight issues. It is vital that parents apply the same eating and activity recommendations and actions to everyone in the household.3 Family "solidarity" is a powerful motivator for changing eating and activity patterns.4

The Roles Parents Play
Parents take on several important roles as they create and maintain the family's healthy-weight home environment.5 One of the most important roles is to be a positive role model. Parents are a child's first and most influential role model for making food choices, developing eating patterns, and formulating attitudes, values, and beliefs about food and eating. For example, if a parent believes that eating a wholesome breakfast is important and does so every day, it is likely that the children in the house will automatically think so too.

Parents also are providers. They purchase foods for the family and buy the toys and sports equipment that encourage physical activity. Parents provide both wholesome, nutritious foods and occasional treats. They also provide an environment that is consistent and supportive, and foster a lifestyle that embraces healthy eating for the entire family.

The parent as enforcer "enforces" positive influences on a child's food and eating behavior. For example, parents help a child learn to listen and respond to internal signals of hunger and fullness. These actions of enforcement help children learn to eat only when truly hungry and not out of boredom. The overall goal of the enforcer is not to become the "family food cop" but to ensure that food choices and eating patterns support the overall health and well-being of all members of the family.

This content is reviewed regularly. Last updated December 17, 2011.

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1 Epstein LH, Valoski A, Wing RR, McCurley J. Ten-year outcomes of behavioral family-based treatment for childhood obesity. Health Psychol 1994;13:371-2.

2 Hertzler AA. Obesity—Impact of the family. J Am Diet Assoc 1981;79:525-30.

3 Kleinman RE, ed. Pediatric Nutrition Handbook, Fifth Edition. Chicago, IL:American Academy of Pediatrics, 2004.

4 Birch LL, Davison KK. Family environmental factors influencing the developing behavioral controls of food intake and childhood overweight. Pediatric Clinics of North America 2001;48:893-907.

5 McCaffree J. Childhood eating patterns: The roles parents play. J Am Diet Assoc 2003;103:1587.