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Experts say that getting children to eat more healthfully, be more active and spend less time on electronic devices are key to combating childhood obesity.

How important is parental influence when it comes to these behaviors?

This study

The study involved 3,206 parents, more women than men (average age, 42), who had a child younger than 18. They were questioned about the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity their child got each week, how many servings of fruit and vegetables their child ate daily and how long their child typically spent each day in front of a television, DVD player, computer, tablet or video-game console. Parents also were questioned about their support for and involvement in such behaviors. Overall, the more active and engaged parents were in these aspects of their children’s lives, the more likely the children were to meet guidelines on healthy behaviors.

Children whose parents took them to parks, playgrounds or sports activities were twice as likely to meet physical activity guidelines as children whose parents did not do this. The same held true when parents and children participated together in physical activities. When families ate meals together away from television, the children were 67 percent more likely to meet guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption than were children in families that combined mealtime and television watching. When parents gave children fruit and vegetables for between-meal snacks, the children were five times as likely as others to meet the consumption goals. As for screen time, children were twice as likely to meet guidelines if their parents set and enforced restrictions on the use of electronic devices as were children who did not have such rules. However, when families watched television together, the children were 33 percent less likely to meet screen-time guidelines.

Who may be affected?

Children. More than a third of American children and adolescents are considered overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity alone has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in recent decades. Being overweight increases children’s risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems and sleep apnea as well as social and psychological problems.


Behavioral data came from the parents’ responses to questions. Screen-time assessment did not include cellphone usage.

Find this study

Online in BMC Public Health (bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com; click on “Articles,” search for “parental support”).

Learn more

Information on healthy behaviors for children is available at kidshealth.org (click on “for Parents”) and at healthychildren.org (click on “Healthy Living”). For information on screen-time guidance, go to mayoclinic.org (search “screen time”).

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.