Teaching healthy behaviors at a young age is important since change becomes more difficult with age. Behaviors involving physical activity and nutrition are the cornerstone of preventing obesity in children and adolescents. Families are the most critical link in providing the foundation for those behaviors.
Parents are the most important role models for children. Results from an American Obesity Association survey show that:
- The majority of parents in the U.S. (78 percent) believe that physical education or recess should not be reduced or replaced with academic classes.
- Almost 30 percent of parents said that they are "somewhat" or "very" concerned about their children's weight.
- 12 percent of parents considered their child overweight.
- Comparing their own childhood health habits to their children's, 27 percent of parents said their children eat less nutritiously, and 24 percent said their children are less physically active.
- 35 percent of parents rated their children's school programs for teaching good patterns of eating and physical activity to prevent obesity as "poor," "non-existent," or "don't know."
- Among six choices of what they believed to be the greatest risk to their children's long-term health and quality of life, 5.6 percent of parents chose "being overweight or obese." More parents selected other choices as the greatest risk: alcohol (6.1 percent), sexually transmitted disease (10 percent), smoking (13.3 percent), violence (20.3 percent), and illegal drugs (24 percent).
- In terms of their own behavior, 61 percent of parents said that it would be either "not very difficult" or "not at all difficult" to change their eating and/or physical activity patterns if it would help prevent obesity in any of their children.
The AOA's survey results indicate that parents understand the importance of regular physical education for their children. Their unfamiliarity or inadequate rating of their children's school obesity prevention program is likely due to the lack of programs across the nation.
Parents appear to underestimate the health risk of excess weight to their children, and the difficulty in achieving and maintaining behavioral changes associated with obesity prevention. Additional studies are needed to develop appropriate public health programs to better educate parents in identifying and understanding changes in their children's weight, to incorporate the family in prevention efforts, and to improve school-based obesity prevention programs that include increasing physical education classes.
Here are some ways that parents can establish a lifetime of healthy habits for their family:
Overweight and Obesity
Results of a 1999 national survey showed that 16 percent of high school students were overweight (Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than the 85 th percentile and below the 95 th percentile) and nearly 10 percent were obese (BMI more than or equal to the 95 th percentile). Self-reported height and weight was used. The survey, called the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System (YRBSS), is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and uses a nationally representative sample of students in grades 9 to 12.
Here are more results from the 1999 YRBSS: