Fat dad, fat kids: New research points to fathers’ influence

If you want to predict whether a baby is going to have a weight problem, new research suggests, look at his or her dad.

Yes, for once dads get the blame for something.

Scientists used to think obese men were more likely to have obese sons, while obese women were more likely to have obese daughters, but studies are starting to disprove that.

A new Australian study, published in the current issue of the International Journal of Obesity, focused on 3,285 two-parent families in which only one parent was overweight or obese. The kids in the study were 8 or 9. Researchers found that heavy dads were more likely to have heavy sons and daughters, but heavy moms were no more likely than healthy-weight moms to have heavy children.

Link to study abstract in the International Journal of Obesity

Huh? Don’t moms generally spend more time with the kids and buy more of the groceries? So why would dad’s weight, not mom’s, be linked to whether kids have to shop in the plus-size department?

Lead author Emily Freeman says she’s not sure, and hopes to explore the question further. “Because our findings are counter-intuitive, we felt that it was very important to get the message out there straight away that dads have a big role in keeping their children healthy,” Freeman, a psychologist with the Fathers and Families Research Program at the University of Newcastle, said in an email.

One possible explanation: Dad as role model. “We have had lots of anecdotal reports about children looking to their dad to determine whether or not they have to eat the vegetables that mum has served them, or if they should be going outside to play in the park,” Freeman said.

In other words, dads should set a good example by eating lots of fruits and veggies and actually playing sports, rather than simply watching them on TV.

Who do you think has a bigger influence on kids’ weight, mom or dad?

Health and parenting writer Rita Rubin lives with her husband and two daughters in Washington, D.C. She tries to set a healthy example by always eating all her broccoli.

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