Less educated mothers are more likely to have fatter children, Scottish scientists have claimed.
Parenting practices such as allowing children to eat in front of the TV are likely to impact on whether children have a high body mass index (BMI), according to a new study from Glasgow University.
Experts found that the lower a mother’s education level, the more likely her children were to have a bedroom TV, eat meals informally in front of a TV, and have less positive social interaction at mealtimes.
These parenting practices were linked to the child having a more unhealthy diet, which in turn caused their BMI to soar between the ages of four and eight-years-old.
Soaring obesity levels present a major problem in Scotland, as 31 per cent of children were at risk of becoming overweight in 2014 while 17 per cent were at risk of becoming obese.
Dr Alison Parkes, senior investigator scientist at Glasgow University’s Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, said: “There is a strong relationship between mother’s education and parenting practices, which ultimately impacts on children’s diet and BMI.
“Our results support other research suggesting links between food consumption while watching TV, unhealthy diet and BMI.
“Bedroom TV was particularly strongly associated with a less healthy diet, perhaps because the child is snacking in the bedroom.”
The team scrutinised data from more than 2,900 Scottish families, where documented a mother’s education when their child was 10 months old, ranking it in five levels from no education to degree-level.
The children’s height and weight were measured by researchers when children were four, six and eight-years-old, and used to calculate their BMI.
Unhealthy diet was based on how often the child consumed sweets, crisps, soft drinks, fruit and vegetables; and whether they skipped breakfast. Mothers were asked about parenting when their child was four and five years old.
Dr Parkes said: “Our study suggests that parent practices relating to how and where children eat affect the quality of the child’s diet and the child’s BMI.
“Social inequalities in children’s diet and BMI could be improved by raising parents’ awareness of these factors and discouraging food consumption in front of a TV and encouraging a more formal, interactive dining style.”
The authors also looked at other factors which might influence children’s BMI, including household income and area deprivation, however no strong correlation between these factors and child BMI was found after taking account of mothers’ own BMI.
Instead, the authors suggest that BMI inequalities between children are largely borne out of parenting practices that may be more related to culture than to family income levels.
Lorraine Tulloch, programme lead for Obesity Action Scotland, said: “We have a problem with childhood obesity in Scotland.
“Nearly a quarter of a million children in Scotland are either overweight or obese. It will be challenge to turn this around and will require us to change our culture, our habits and the environment in which we live.
“This research provides us with some simple steps that parents could take to help reduce the likelihood of their child being overweight or obese such as discouraging eating in front of the TV and having more family dinners together without distractions.
“The habits of previous generations may be part of what is needed to save the future of the young Scots.”