From my own experiences and from the many stories I have heard, it is apparent that many grandparents spoil their grandchildren with sweet treats and lots of food! Their intentions are coming from a good place but could this action be causing a bigger problem that we may realise?
Recent research has indicated that this form of affection may actually be contributing to childhood obesity in China – these finding could likely be relevant in many other countries as well.
‘New research has revealed that affection from grandparents towards their grandchildren may play a major role in contributing to the childhood obesity pandemic in China.’
A study by the University of Birmingham (UK) shows that grandparents tend to indulge, overfeed and protect grandchildren in their care from physical chores, thus increasing their risk of obesity. The underlying motive for the action of grandparents is affection for their treasured grandchild and stems from their personal experiences, misunderstanding and poor recognition of the adverse health effects of childhood obesity.’
The study recognises that older generations tend to have less understanding of the negative health implications of childhood obesity. Most studies looking at childhood obesity in western countries focus on the parents role in prevention but in Chinese cultures grandparents tend to have a more significant role in caring for their grandchildren and in many cases they live in the same household.
‘As a result, Chinese children who are mainly cared for by their grandparents are more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese, compared with those who are mainly looked after by their parents or other adults. Children who are mainly cared for by a grandparent also consume unhealthy snacks and drinks more frequently.’
‘Our study reveals that grandparents contribute to childhood obesity in China through inappropriate perception, with many sharing the belief that fat children are healthy and inaccurate knowledge, believing that obesity-related diseases only happen in adults. Grandparents will often assess weight status by comparing their grandchildren with their peers, rather than seeking professional opinion.’
Ideally child care and instructions should be cohesive amongst carers when it comes to chores, activity, prevention of over indulging and so on. Conflicting messages can be confusing for children and can breed negative habits.
‘It is thought that the lag in health-related knowledge among China’s older generation also stems from the fact that many experienced underweight, under-nutrition, food shortage, physical hardship and deprivation in their early lives before China’s economic reform.
Professor of Public Health, Peymane Adab, University of Birmingham and co-author of the study said: ‘Childcare provided through grandparents is a growing social trend across the world and, in China, around half of urban families have grandparents involved in the care of children. Our study highlights the need to include grandparents in future interventions to promote healthy behaviors among children.’
Childhood obesity amongst Chinese children is a rapidly growing concern. The study recommends the involvements of grandparents in healthy lifestyle interventions to educate them as well. This could be a plan adopted right across the world as another strategy to decrease the rates of childhood obesity or even raise awareness of the importance of cohesive messages between carers.
‘The rate of increase in childhood obesity over the last decade in Chinese urban areas exceeds that seen in many Western populations. Therefore, it is imperative that we now work with families, stakeholders and Chinese governmental bodies to tackle this pandemic.’