July 6, 2021
Around 1 in 4 pre-school aged (2-5 years) children are overweight or obese in Australia. This is concerning as childhood overweight and obesity can track into adulthood and is a risk factor for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. This means tackling overweight and obesity at an early age is very important. Overweight and obesity is linked to dietary intake. Many Australian children consume excess energy and do not meet the dietary recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption. Parents play an important role in the food intake of young children as the main providers of foods that their children consume.
One way that parents influence their child’s dietary intake is through their parenting styles, which are parenting behaviours that influence a child’s development.
There are currently four commonly recognised parenting styles, which are based on two dimensions: warmth (the amount of affection a parent shows their child) and control (the parent’s ability to manage their child).
The four parenting styles are generally characterized as:
- authoritative (high control and high warmth), parents who encourage child autonomy, respect their child’s opinion and provide healthy boundary setting
- authoritarian (high control and low warmth), parents who are controlling and demanding of their child and are not as responsive to their child’s opinion
- permissive (low control and high warmth), parents who are undemanding towards their child, however, provide warmth and show respect for their child
- disengaged/neglectful (low control and low warmth), parents who offer little emotional support and control
What we found
We carried out a systematic review to examine associations between parenting styles and the dietary intake of pre-school children.
We found seven research articles examining these associations. The findings suggested that an authoritative parenting style (high warmth and high control) or higher levels of warmth are associated with healthier dietary intakes among pre-school children. This includes a higher intake of fruits and vegetables and lower intake of unhealthy foods such as potato chips or other crisps, sweet biscuits, cakes and pastries, chocolate and lollies, sugar sweetened drinks, and hot fried snacks.
What can parents do to improve their children’s dietary intake?
These findings suggest that the dietary intake of children could be improved through open and warm communication and healthy boundary setting regarding food, in line with the authoritative parenting style. Practical ways that parents can do this include providing structured meal timings and settings and not having unhealthy food within the home. Additionally, parents can support healthier dietary intakes by modelling healthy eating behaviours, avoiding rewarding children with food for good behaviour and avoiding pressuring or persuading children to eat
Alissa Burnett is a Lecturer in Nutrition Sciences at the School of Exercise and Nutrition Science, Deakin University. Her research focuses on the prevention of childhood obesity through investigating how parenting behaviours influence the dietary intake and eating behaviours of infants and pre-school children.