Weight Loss: Kids Often Follow Parents' Lead

When overweight parents lose weight, their overweight kids may do likewise.

A new study of 114 overweight families found that when parents lost weight and got in shape, their children's weight and fitness improved as well.

That weight loss seems to last for the long haul — five years, according to the study—presented at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity’s annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

In short, kids often adopt their parents’ habits. That could make parents a tipping point in whether overweight families lose their extra pounds.

The researchers behind the study include Leonard Epstein, PhD. He works in the pediatrics department at the State University of New York at Buffalo’s medical school.

A Family Fix for Obesity

All in the Family

The researchers studied 114 overweight families from four weight control studies. The kids in those families were 6-12 years old. Like their parents, they were overweight.

As the parents got in shape, their overweight kids tended to follow in their footsteps.

BMI changes in overweight parents predicted BMI changes in their overweight kids for five years, the researchers found.

Thirteen Weight-Loss Tips for Kids

Parents as Role Models

The same positive pattern had been noted by the researchers in a previous study.

That study, published in June in Obesity Research, tracked 110 overweight families for a shorter period (two years). Those families were participating in two weight control studies.

What were those parents doing right? Here are some of the strategies from those weight control studies:

—Writing down foods eaten

—Tracking calories

—Doing daily weigh-ins and graphing weight

—Sticking to their calorie budget

—Meeting goals for physical activity (and writing down activities)

—Limiting high-calorie foods

—Following a food reference guide

—Having nightly family meetings

—Praising each other

—Picking physical activities to do as a family

—Eating no more than seven high-fat foods per week

—Modeling healthy eating habits

—Planning ahead for events where high-calorie foods will be served

—Eating only in one room

—Suggesting alternatives to high-calorie foods

The parents completed surveys about how often they had used those tips. The results showed that parents’ example was important to their kids.

In other words, model the behavior you want to see in your kids.

Ask a doctor for help set goals for weight loss and activity. Kids are still growing, so make sure their nutritional needs are met.

Do Bigger Babies Become Fatter Adults?

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: North American Association for the Study of Obesity, Vancouver, Canada, Oct. 15-19, 2005. Wrotniak, B. Obesity Research, June 6, 2005; vol 13: pp 1089-1096.