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KIN 366
Section: 001
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion


One enters parenthood either when they become a mother or a father. Parents can either be single, married, or divorced. The issue of childhood obesity has dramatically increased over recent years. It is known that one fifth of US children are either obese or overweight (Sullivan, 2014). Among other things, parenthood is thought to have a major effect on obesity rates not only on the parents but on the child as well. Just about how much of an effect do habits of parents affect habits of their children? When tackling the issue of childhood obesity, should we be focusing more on the activities of the parents or of the children? Are we doing the correct thing when telling children to take responsibility when the parents have more of a say, especially in the younger years? This wiki page will discuss the effects parenthood has on the rates of obesity on children as well as adults.

Influence of Parents on a Child’s Introduction to Movement Experiences

When growing up, family plays a big role in one’s life and it helps to shape the person one becomes. Jacobi, Caille, Jean-Michel, Agnes, Couet, Charles, & Oppert (2011) found that the correlation between parent and child activity levels remains from childhood to when they enter adolescence. This highlights the influence parents have as activity levels of children are not found to change with the changing environments and experiences. Erkelenz, Kobel, Kettner, Drenowatz, & Steinacker (2014) state physically active parents had significantly more often engaging in organized [physical activity] than inactive parents. Therefore, children are more likely to be physically active if their parents value physical activity and are more active themselves. Some even argue that genetics plays an important role in the physical activity levels of young children. In households where physical activity is valued, members of the family, including children and parents, are more likely to be physically active. Parents that are physically active may share these activities with their children as well as be more likely to support the participation of their children in these activities by buying them the necessary equipment and providing transportation to and from facilities (Moore, Lombardi, White, Campbell, Oliveria, & Ellison, 1991). If the parents are not physically active, Erkelenz, Kobel, Kettner, Drenowatz, & Steinacker (2014) also state, there was a higher prevalence of overweight or obese children with both parents being inactive.

Parents as Role Models

Parents and siblings act as role models for physical activity in children, especially at early ages. A possible reason why physical activity levels within families can be similar is because parents and siblings can act as role models in exercise habits as well apart from other good or bad habits. There are several reasons why family and parents have such a big influence on childhood movement experiences. Firstly, a large part of childhood is spent within the family, especially in the earlier years of the child’s life. This part of their life is the most impressionable. Secondly, parents are thought to be very involved in the athletic experience of their children. Whether it be from signing them up for classes or even driving them to and from games. Thirdly, parents have the opportunity to provide meaningful feedback to their children in an athletic environment. Through feedback, parents are able to have an influence on their child’s level of enjoyment of sports, either positively or negatively (Weiss, 2004). Researchers have argued that one of the biggest predictors of physical activity in children is activity habits of their parents (Bredin, 2012).

Maternal Age

Maternal age is the age of the mother at childbirth. The average age at which women become pregnant has risen over recent years due to many factors. A maternal age of 35 years and older is considered to be high (Huang, Sauve, Cirkett, Fergusson, & Walraven, 2008). The effects of increased maternal age include having an increased risk of disease upon pregnancy including pregestational hypertension or diabetes. The children of mothers with gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of serious illnesses including delayed psychomotor development, obesity, perinatal morbidity, and the early onset of type 2 diabetes. These conditions may greatly influence the overall exercise levels of a child (Bredin, 2012). Janjua, Mahmood, Aminul Islam, & Goldenberg (2012) stated, children of mothers smoking 1-12 cigarettes a day during the 1st trimester were more likely to be overweight as compared to those who did not smoke.

Exercise During Pregnancy

Roberts, Savage, Coward, Chew, & Lucas (1998) have reported it is common for parents to experience weight gain post pregnancy, particularly in mothers. A common factor for this is reduced energy expenditure, and particularly during planned physical activity, during the first year after birth. Bellows-Riecken and Rhodes (2008) suggest that mothers spend less time engaged in activity than fathers after the birth of their child because they spend more time on parenting and responsibilities. This could be for various reasons such as breast-feeding, putting the baby to sleep or even just exhaustion from an accumulation of things. The researchers suggest that changes in physical activity levels during parenthood is effected by gender. Mothers are found to experience the biggest drop in exercise levels, however, research has also found drops physical activity levels of fathers. Zhang and Savitz (1996) have found that older mothers are less likely to exercise during pregnancy and highlights perceived threats of exercise on the unborn child to be the biggest barrier. Clarke and Gross (2004) have found that most women are not aware of the health benefits of exercising during pregnancy. This suggests that emphasis should be made on educating pregnant women on the long-term benefits to their child of exercising during pregnancy. Other possible explanations are physical changes that take part in the body of the mother and discouragement from doctors of engaging in activity during pregnancy. Along with decreased physical activity levels due to various reasons, mothers have been found to engage in unhealthy eating patterns, leading to weight gain.

Postpartum Exercise

The child and mother are similar when the child is very young. The link between maternal weight loss and child obesity was talked about by Sonneville, Rifas-Shiman, Oken, Peterson, Gortmaker, Fillman, & Taveras (2011). They stated that the attempt to lose weight at six months postpartum was associated with higher body mass index score at 3 years of age and elevated odds of obesity. New York Times highlights, for each child a woman had, her risk of obesity went up 7% and or men, the increase was 4%. Also, Bredin (2012) suggests there is a weight retention of up to 4.7kg or more over 10-years following childbirth. Postpartum exercise becomes more difficult because of dealing with a newborn and the demands of the newborn rather than your own. Mothers and fathers seem to put aside their needs and wants due to exhaustion. Bredin (2012) suggests that women engage in physical activity less than men, however, post pregnancy, these differences can be seen even clearer possibly due to time constraints and childcare responsibilities.

Number of Children

Becoming a parent, parents usually put their children before themselves including the physical activity department. As previously talked about in Postpartum Exercise, the risk for mothers and fathers having obesity rises 4-7% depending on the gender. With each additional child, a parent has a higher risk for long-term weight retention and obesity (Bredin, 2012). Researchers have found a relationship between the number of children and parental activity levels.

Single vs. Dual-Parent

Researchers have found that children tend to be more overweight in single-parent households compared to those in dual-parent households (Huffman, Sankarabharan, & Manthan, 2010). More overweight children have a higher risk of generating high levels of cholesterol and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. There is a significant relationship between childhood obesity and hyperlipidemia. Children with abnormal levels of cholesterol are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Researchers suggest that single-parent households consume more packaged and convenience foods compared to dual-parent households, suggesting there is an increased risk for obesity and high blood cholesterol (Moore, Lombardi, White, Campbell, Oliveria, & Ellison, 2001). Narrowing it down to single female-headed households there is an increased risk of lower wages earned. Lower wages equal more hours of work rather than spending time with family land teaching the simple things as in food choices resulting in more packaged foods. These households consumed more total fat, saturated fat, and sweetened beverages as well as had a high percent of more than two hours of television and video viewing than children of dual family households (Huffman, Kanikireddy, & Patel, 2010).

Activity Level of Parents

Parenthood is thought to have a greater impact on mothers, perhaps due to the perceived increase in responsibilities mother’s feel they have looking after their family. Therefore, researchers have found that activity levels in mothers are generally lower compared to fathers. Although a larger decline in activity levels is found in mothers, levels of activity in fathers have been found to drop as well. (Bellows-Riecken, and Rhodes, 2008). Bredin (2012) offers an explanation for differences in activity levels between mothers and fathers by arguing that mother’s look after regular child care while father’s are more likely to engage in activities with their children, requiring a greater energy expenditure than chores, which are commonly the responsibility of mothers. Common barriers many parents encounter in terms of physical activity include lack of time and social support, fatigue, and the new added roles and obligations in their lives (Bredin, 2012).

Mother’s vs. Father’s Influence

A lot of research has been done in the rise of childhood obesity and many have found the strongest correlation between a child and the parent of the same sex. There is a strong correlation between body composition of mother and daughter as well as father and son. The same correlation does not seem to exist as strongly for children of the opposite sex, suggesting the relationship cannot be genetic. (Lean, 2010). Research shows that when only one parent is overweight, it is the father’s activity levels that have the greatest influence on the children. The father has been found to be a key figure in the family influencing habits such as diet and exercise. (Burrows, Callister, Collins, Fletcher, Freeman, & Morgan, 2012). As a matter of fact, Shroshpire and Carrol (2006) found that the level of activity of the mother has little influence on the child’s activity levels. Bredin (2012) suggests that when parents of the same sex are obese, there is a ten and six fold respectively increased chance of their children becoming overweight. Although it has been found that same-sex parents have the most influence on activity levels of their children, Moore, Lombardi, White, Campbell, Oliveria, & Ellison (1991) suggest children are most likely to engage in physical activity if both their parents are physically active. Roberts Savage, Coward, Chew, & Lucas (1988) suggest that the main reason children born to overweight mothers experience rapid weight gain during their first year of life is because of a decreased energy expenditure. Janjua, Mahmood, Aminul Islam, & Goldenberg (2012) have stated, an overweight child correlated with the mother being overweight or obese before pregnancy. A study done by Shropshire & Carroll (2006) indicates that children reporting their fathers partook in regular exercise engaged in non physical education sports more than children with fathers more sedentary.

How Parents Perceive Exercise Benefits

Bentley (2012) found that most parents labeled their child as active and meeting current exercise guidelines. Common ways parents assess their child’s levels of activity are their energy levels and weight status. In their study, they found that parents were not aware of the current physical activity guidelines for children; therefore, it would be beneficial to educate them. If parents are better educated on appropriate guidelines then they might become more aware of where their children are lacking. Although parents want the best for there children, they can make decisions that have a negative impact when they think they are making the right and safe decision. Frank, Kerr, Sallis, Miles, & Chapman (2008) found that parents who viewed their neighborhoods as safe had children, particularly girls, that were more physically active compared to parents that did not find their neighborhoods to be safe. Parents who did not consider their neighborhoods to be safe admitted to feeling to activities for their children that were inside their homes. Keeping your children’s activities inside is keeping them safe but not physically active.

Practical Application

Childhood obesity should not be seen as the primary problem needing to be solved. Bentley (2012) suggests that interventions regarding the childhood obesity epidemic should be targeted at the parents. Interventions are needed that target the family as a whole. Healthier eating and exercise habits should be worked on together and blame should not be placed on just one individual. Birch, Parker, & Burns (2011) suggests that a key influence on the habits of a family is the father. The father is thought to be one of the most significant role models in shaping children’s eating and exercise habits. Interventions dedicated to targeting and educating fathers is thought to be an important strategy to prevent childhood obesity. Parenthood is a vulnerable time and is often accompanied by decreased levels of physical activity by the parents. This places an increased risk of obesity related diseases on the parents, which can in turn can have negative influences on their children. Some state “to address this increased risk, it is imperative that greater attention be paid to establishing activity interventions that target the early years of parenthood” (Bredin, 2012, p. 307). It is important that parents are aware of the common barriers when getting their children to be physically active in order to be able to overcome them. Bentley G.F (2012) have found the common barriers parents must overcome in order to get their child physically active are cost, time, weather, transport, lack of safe outdoor space, lack of provision, and lack of education. Once barriers are acknowledged and or covered, that is one step closer to a more active child. Bentley, Goodred, Jago, Sebire, Lucas, Fox, Stewart-Brown, & Turner (2012) suggest that educating parents’ on the benefits of physical activity beyond just weight status is an important first step in ending the current childhood obesity epidemic as well as increasing the movement experiences of young children. As talked about in how parents perceive exercise benefits, instead of keeping the activities inside the home, take the activities outside while supervising. This way both the parent and the children get physical activity.


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