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The researchers there looked at the quality of parenting in early life and then looked at the rate of teenage obesity: as you would unhappily expect, those with weak mother-child bonding had a higher rate of obesity - in fact it was over a quarter of them, or 26%. This compared with under 15% for those with observed better bonding skills.
The knee jerk response is then to blame the parents for "causing" their kids to be obese in their later life, with all the associated medical problems that can be associated with it - diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. But the findings highlight the fact that changes must be ocuring in the toddlers brain to account for the metabolic responses to these early life experiences. According to Sarah Anderson, Assistant Professor at Ohio State, “Sensitive parenting increases the likelihood that a child will have a secure pattern of attachment and develop a healthy response to stress. A well-regulated stress response could in turn influence how well children sleep and whether they eat in response to emotional distress – just two factors that affect the likelihood for obesity.”
So instead of just focusing on eating healthy food and getting adequate physical exercise - which is necessary for all children anyway - systems need to be developed to support and improve the parenting skills of those who currently lack them. This is easier said than done and cannot be left solely to government agencies to find solutions. This is something that everyone who knows someone with kids needs to be aware of. Bringing up kids is tough; doing it by yourself is even tougher; doing it in an environment where unemployment is high and making ends meet is a never ending struggle, would just about make a saint weep.
An offer of help, a word of encouragement: maybe even taking the child to the park whilst Mum has a break, or reading stories to the little one whilst she takes "five" - there are many small ways in which we can make a big difference. As Professor Fiona Stanley here in Perth said many years ago, "It takes a village to raise a child".