Obesity in Pre-Schoolers: Dads Matter Too!

While I am taking a brief break from clinics and other obligations (including daily blog posts), I will be reposting past articles, which I still believe to be relevant but may have escaped the attention of the 100s of new readers who have signed up in the past months.

The following was first posted on 11/12/07

Those of you following my blog may have noticed my concern about how maternal obesity and lifestyles seem to impact future risk of childhood obesity.

Well, apparently it’s not just Mom’s “fault” – Dads matter too!

Melissa Wake and colleagues from the Royal Victoria Hospital in Victoria (AUS) studied the relationships between BMI status at ages 4 to 5 years and mothers’ and fathers’ parenting dimensions and parenting styles.

Participants were composed of all 4983 of the 4- to 5-year-old children in wave 1 of the nationally representative Longitudinal Study of Australian Children with complete BMI and maternal parenting data.

Mothers and fathers self-reported their parenting behaviors on 3 multi-item continuous scales (warmth, control, and irritability) and were each categorized as having 1 of 4 parenting styles (authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and disengaged) using internal warmth and control tertile cut points.

They found that while mothers’ parenting behaviors and styles were not associated in any model with higher odds of children being in a heavier BMI category, higher father control scores were associated with lower odds of the child being in a higher BMI category.

Thus, compared with the reference authoritative style, children of fathers with permissive and disengaged parenting styles had higher odds of being in a higher BMI category (~30-50% greater risk depending on the statistical model).

Apparently these findings are consistent with a previous intervention study by Stein et al., which showed that fathers’ but not mothers’ parenting (warmth and support) predicted better maintenance of weight loss after a behavioral parenting intervention for pediatric obesity.

These authors suggest that fathers’ parenting may well be an important determinant of the extent to which the family environment as a whole is supportive of children’s attempts to lose weight.

Message to Dads: “Get involved – you count!”