obesity; body mass index; children; parents; health
Parents are key players in the development of children’s eating habits. As nutritional gatekeepers, they plan and prepare the food and design their children’s eating environment. Despite this crucial role, most research on parental influences has concentrated on feeding practices and thus has overlooked the role of many other potent parental influences. The research reported herein was undertaken to advance the current literature on social influences on obesity by identifying and specifying how parents as nutritional gatekeepers influence dietary intake and weight status in children. More specifically, three different types of parental influences were examined: (1) family meals, (2) health literacy skills of nutritional gatekeepers, and (3) the role of nutritional gatekeeping in food insecurity. Section 2 consists of two manuscripts and deals with quantitative and qualitative aspects of family meals. The first manuscript is a meta-analysis showing that the frequency of family meals is significantly associated with better diet quality and lower BMI in children. The second manuscript is a meta-analysis that identifies the following mealtime practices that are positively associated with children’s nutritional health: TV off during meals, higher food quality, parental modeling, positive atmosphere, longer meal duration, and children’s involvement in meal preparation. Section 3 consists of two manuscripts that deal with the role of parental health literacy skills in their children’s body weight. The first study suggests that lower parental numeracy is a potential risk factor for underweight as well as overweight in children; the second study shows that parental sugar underestimation is associated with a higher risk of the child being overweight. Section 4 consists of one manuscript: In a commentary, we suggest that the missing link between food insecurity and obesity in children can be explained by nutritional gatekeeping buffering against the effect of nutrition poverty. Each section elaborates on implications for future research and practice that aim at targeting parents in early obesity prevention.
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