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One of the most common assertions is that home environments including parenting styles are a major determinant of obesity risk in kids.

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Parenting Styles and Obesity Risk in Adolescents

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obesity risk in kids
Obesity risk in kids

One of the most common assertions is that home environments including parenting styles are a major determinant of obesity risk in kids.

This issue was now examined by Jerica Berge and colleagues from the University of Minnesota in a paper published in the latest issue of OBESITY.

As described in the paper, the four classic parenting styles (known to be a character of the parent and to generally be stable over time) are:

  • Authoritative: high level of demandingness (on the child) with high level of responsiveness (to the child)
  • Authoritarian: high level of demandingness with low level of responsiveness
  • Permissive: low level of demandingness with high level of responsiveness
  • Neglectful: low level of demandingness with low low level of responsiveness


direct and indirect patterns
Direct and Indirect Patterns
  • Furthermore, parenting practices can be divided into direct (e.g. encouraging) and indirect (e.g. modeling) patterns.
  • Data from Project EAT, a population-based study with over 2,500 adolescents from 31 Minnesota school with diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, were used.
  • Maternal authoritative parenting style predicted lower BMI in adolescent sons and daughters, whereas maternal authoritarian style predicted higher BMI in sons (especially when combined with neglectful dads) but had no effect on daughters’ BMI.
  • In contrast fathers’ parenting styles alone, appeared to have no effect on sons or daughters’ BMI.
parent adolescent relationship
Parent-Adolescent Relationship
  • Sons of parents who encouraged but did not model healthy lifestyles had a higher BMI, but the effect of encouraging vs. modeling on daughters’ BMI was less clear.
  • Oddly, paternal permissive parenting style predicted more fruits and vegetables intake in daughters
  • Most surprisingly, no significant associations were found between parenting style and adolescent physical activity levels.
  • While there were no interactions between ethnicity and parenting styles, lower SES parents tended to be more authoritarian, while higher SES parents tended to be more authoritative.
  • The authors interpret their findings to suggest that authoritative parenting style may play a protective role related to adolescent overweight and that warmth and/or caring in the parent-adolescent relationship may be important in relation to female adolescent healthy dietary intake.
clinical tips
Clinical Tips
  • The biggest surprise however was the apparent importance of opposite sex parents’ influence on their offspring.

Based on their findings, the authors had two clinical tips:

  • 1) Clinicians should perhaps promote authoritative parenting styles as high parental expectations and structure along with caring and emotional responsiveness, rather than rigidness, less structure and emotional unresponsiveness, may protect against overweight in sons.
  • 2) Clinicians should promote congruency between parenting practices (in both words and actions), as this may be protective in both sons and daughters.
parenting style
Parenting Style
  • However, given the fact that parenting styles and behaviours have previously been shown to be stable over time, it may be doubtful as to how much influence clinicians can truly have on parenting.
  • Furthermore, although clearly an authoritarian parenting style appears worst, I am rather surprised that the influence of different parenting styles was not far greater or clearer than what was found in this study.
  • This may either be a reflection of how little influence parents actually have on adolescent behaviours and/or how little parenting actually has to do with kids’ risk for overweight or obesity in the first place.
about dr arya m sharma
About Dr. Arya M. Sharma

Dr. Arya M. Sharma, MD/PhD, FRCPC is Professor of Medicine & Chair for Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. He is also the Medical Director of the Edmonton Capital Health Region’s interdisciplinary Weight Wise Program.

Dr. Sharma is also the Scientific Director of the Canadian Obesity Network funded through the federal Networks of Centres Excellence program. Dr. Sharma has authored and co-authored more than 250 scientific articles and has lectured widely on the etiology and management of obesity and related cardiovascular disorders. He sends his informative messages through his blog Dr. Sharma’s Obesity Notes.

For more information on Obesity visit;