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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU: Grandparental Care Linked to Obesity in Children

Grandparental child care is linked to nearly a 30 percent increase in childhood overweight and obesity risk, finds a new analysis from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Researchers said grandparents could impact their grandchildren’s waistlines in various ways, such as influencing their daily diet and physical activity.

“Through wisdom, teaching, and guidance, grandparents are often able to leave a lifelong benefit to their grandchildren,” said Dr. Ruopeng An, assistant professor at the Brown School and lead author of the study. “However, some negative influences from grandparental care may also be present and cannot be overlooked.”

Dr. An and his co-authors — from the University of Michigan, Shanghai University and Overseas Chinese College in Beijing — reviewed scientific literature that studied the relationship between grandparental care and childhood obesity in China, Japan, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and other countries.

They found that the experience and values of grandparents sometimes didn’t take into account the modern dietary challenges faced by today’s children.

“Affluence and being well fed is valued and desirable to many grandparents who had experienced hunger and poverty in their youth,” Dr. An said. “Some may perceive heavier body weight in children as a sign of being healthy, urging them to eat larger and more frequent meals. Others may provide children with sweets and fried food as a way to show love and be more likely to excuse children from doing household chores, a key form of physical activity.”

Dr. An said the association between grandparental childcare and childhood overweight and obesity was not found to differ between countries.

The study was published online Jan. 22 in Childhood Obesity.

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