eating fruits and vegetables and drinking milk, it means those foods are readily available to the child. However, parents often engage in different types of physical activities than children or in different settings, so the parent going to a health club or on a run may not facilitate the child’s physical activity and could serve as a barrier.

Researchers have compared the effects of different families’ eating and activity patterns on their children. Families can be categorized as either “obesogenic,” where physical activity is relatively low and energy and fat intakes are high, or nonobesogenic, where parents show higher levels of activity and lower energy intakes. For example, in one study, girls living in obesogenic families gained more weight from age 5 to 7 than girls from nonobesogenic families, and the former were more likely to be overweight at age 7 (Davison and Birch, 2002). These effects were mediated by similarities in mother-daughter eating patterns and father-daughter physical activity patterns, suggesting that while mothers were effective models for daughters’ eating habits, fathers’ levels of physical activity influenced their daughters in that area.

It is not known to what extent the observed effects of modeling reflect modeling per se or result simply from the fact that parents either do or do not establish routine access to healthful options so that these options are familiar to their children. That is, parents who eat a healthful diet and are active typically provide access to healthful food and opportunities for physical activity for their children as well. As discussed in Chapter 3, guidance regarding a balanced diet and regular physical activity is available through the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Parents should provide positive role models of eating and physical activity behaviors for their children. The committee urges parents to be positive role models for their children by decreasing the amount of time they engage in sedentary activities such as watching TV, increasing the amount of time they engage in physical activity each day, and modeling eating habits that include balance and variety in their food choices and portion control.


It is critically important that parents view childhood obesity as a health issue and realize that obesity can have a deleterious impact on physical as well as mental health, both during childhood and later in life. Yet parents of overweight or obese children do not always recognize their child’s weight status and many are not fully aware of its adverse consequences (Young-Hyman et al., 2000; Etelson et al., 2003; Maynard et al., 2003).

Because children often exhibit idiosyncratic growth patterns, it is important to evaluate a child within the context of his or her own particular

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