Fathers may be more important than mothers in determining whether a child becomes overweight or obese. And there is a critical age when many inner city children become overweight or obese: between the ages of 1 and 3 years old. If they can stay slim until then, they may not have to struggle with obesity later.

In a study of over 1,700 children ages 1-5 years living in inner-city neighborhoods of New York City, researchers found that the risk of being overweight or obese significantly increased with each successive year of age, with the biggest increases in prevalence between the ages of 1 and 3 years, and by age 5, half of the children were overweight. Boys were slightly more likely to be obese than girls. Researcher Melissa Glassman says, “These findings indicate that pediatric interventions aimed at this critical age may have the greatest impact at preventing childhood obesity. [That] critical age period encompasses a major transition period for children, when they develop and establish food preferences and eating behaviors.”

And who is most important in establishing these eating patterns? Surprisingly, it?s not Mom?it’s Dad. An Australian study looked at nearly 5,000 4 to 5 year olds and investigated the relationship between their body mass index (BMI) status and the parenting styles of their mothers and fathers. The researchers found that fathers who had permissive (allowing children freedom without limits) or disengaged parenting styles were more likely to have heavier children. Fathers whose parenting was more consistent (setting clear limits, following through with instructions etc) were less likely to have a child with a higher BMI. Mothers’ parenting behaviors and styles were NOT associated with a child’s risk of being overweight.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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