According to the documentary Tipping the Scales childhood obesity has become a major problem in the United States. In Arizona, the documentary states that 1 out of 4 kids is overweight. The CDC puts that number at 1 in 6 nationwide for both children and adolescents (CDC, 2015).
Personally, I do believe that parenting and parenting style are major factors in the issue of childhood obesity.
Baumrind’s theory and it’s extension by Maccoby & Martin suggest four parenting styles that describes a parent’s disciplinary tendencies and responsiveness to a child and how they affect that child’s development. It basically describes the authoritative parent as the ideal type in it’s balanced approach to parenting, and all other types have issues that can have negative outcomes. The permissive parent is too indulgent while the authoritarian is too strict and the neglectful parent just can’t be bothered at all.
Both ends of the spectrum seem to have the possibility of contributing to obesity as parenting styles with similarities to both the permissive parent and the authoritarian parent have been linked to increased risk of obesity in children (Barnard). Permissive parents tend to allow for a more “indulgent” feeding style while authoritarian’s and their tendency to maintain high levels of control can create a situation where desserts and sweets become more rewarding than healthy foods or by forcing children to finish their meals and creating a situation where children learn to ignore their internal cues of hunger or feeling full (Barnard).
However, parents have been overly strict or indulgent for as long as there have been parents. So while I do believe parenting is contributing factor, I think the larger issue is the cultural shift over the past several decades towards high sugar, processed foods that are cheap and easily accessible. While the number of people on welfare is dropping, poverty is actually on the rise (Shaefer, 2014). The number of dual-income families and working single parents is also on the rise, meaning that many parents have to balance parenting with work. For some parents, this may make processed foods seem like easier, quicker, cheaper options even though they are often more fattening and less healthy.
Besides food choice, activity choices are also an issue that impedes health. Tipping the Scales points to the issue of reduced physical education in schools that help contribute to obesity. At home, kids are more sedentary than ever. Including all types of screens (Television, computers, etc), the average American child has 5-7 hours of screen time a day (Kaneshiro, 2013). This is time that could be spent being active, burning calories and learning to live a fit lifestyle.
There are likely numerous reasons that is not the case. Increasingly we are living in a state of fear. Reports of parents being arrested for allowing their children to play in the neighborhood unsupervised seem to be increasing while constant access to news makes the world seem a very dangerous place to allow children out to play. Parents with work schedules to contend with are not always available to take their children out and may turn to screens as a way to distract their children while they get other work done. Many sports and activities can be out of reach for parents due to cost. Even with scholarships and grants, some parents may make too much to qualify for assistance but still not enough to afford to participate.
As far as helping children with such an issue, I believe addressing the issue would require the involvement of the parents. Without a commitment from parents to attempt to do better then you end up chasing your own tail. Nothing is accomplished, regardless of what you think should be done or what the child wants. When I worked as an in-home specialist and children expressed a desire to be more fit I would let them take charge. I would answer their questions about what is healthy and what is not and let them decide how much change they wanted to make at once. Once child started with a commitment to drink water instead of soda. That was something the child could do on his own, and he liked the feeling of being in control of his health. With another, we would take hikes during our time together, and he joined a neighborhood basketball team. For another, we discovered a local martial arts class that was free to neighborhood youth. Addressing these sorts of health concerns was a personal priority of mine because it gave children a healthy outlet for stress. So there are definitely ways a counselor or provider can address issues without being pushy, stepping on parental toes, or making a child feel insecure. However, it heavily depends on the family, the child and the goals of treatment. Medication also needs to be considered as there are several that cause weight gain.
Barnard, K. (n.d.). Parenting Practices Influence Childhood Obesity. Retrieved from http://researchnews.wsu.edu/health/322.html
Blanco, L. (2012, January 27). Tipping the Scales – A Documentary on Childhood Obesity. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpNvj5xWr6k
CDC. (2015, June 16). Childhood Overweight and Obesity. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/
Catalyst. (2015, April 16). Working Parents. Retrieved from http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/working-parents
Kaneshiro, N. (2013, May 10). Screen time and children: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000355.htm
Shaefer, L., & Edin, K. (2014). The Rise of Extreme Poverty in the United States. Pathways. Retrieved from http://web.stanford.edu/group/scspi/_media/pdf/pathways/summer_2014/Pathways_Summer_2014_ShaeferEdin.pdf
Westhaver, B. (2014, April 10) Baumrind’s Theory of Parental Styles. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0iUqvEKvGs