Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dads are the primary 'health role model' for kids

Academics at the University of Newcastle have found that children are more likely to follow their father's lead when it comes to healthy eating and exercise behaviours, as opposed to their mother's.

The study, that found children mimic their father's habits over their mother's in terms of diet and fitness, has lead the Hunter Medical Research Institute to fund a world-first study entitled Healthy Dads, Healthy Kids to be trialled over a six month period.
Professor Philip Morgan, heading up the new program, saw astonishing results in a previous trial involving 165 overweight children, which showed that kids who lost the most amount of weight had fathers who were, at the same time, taking part in a new eating and exercise plan. Professor Morgan also learnt in a separate trial that the children of 65 men involved in an online weight loss program shed several kilos alongside their fathers, and that the wives in fact lost weight as well.

According to Professor Morgan, however, mothers are often portrayed as the 'bad guy' when it comes to healthy eating, as they are usually the key instigators in putting fruit and vegetables in front of their kids at meal times. "Mum can purchase and prepare the food but dads will often have less greens, or just meat and potato. The kids think 'mum makes me eat this' and she is painted as the bad guy," Professor Morgan said.
However as this study shows, it is the dads who "influence the food and physical activity habits in the home" says Morgan, "through their behaviours, attitudes and approach to food and eating, and act as a role model to their children."

The study also showed that mothers, as primary care givers, were easier to inform but that when fathers make healthy lifestyle changes, the entire family tends to follow and becomes healthier in general.

So how can you even up the balance so that both parents influence food and exercise choices equally in your household? Spend time as a whole family planning your health, fitness and eating habits. You can use our handy tools, such as the event calendar to schedule in lots of energetic get-togethers with other families, with healthy eating and exercise as the theme.

For example, invite the cousins or neighbours to the park for a big picnic and game of cricket; head to the bike track for your son's upcoming birthday party; or host a family lunch where fruit skewers are served instead of ice-creams for dessert. (Use our invitation template to spread the word!)

But it certainly doesn't have to be an occasion for you and the kids to eat well and keep active. Far from it! Using our kids activity ideas list, help your children come up with ideas for living a healthy lifestyle - it's a great way to get them motivated to try a new physical activity such as horse riding, dance or basketball.

And if you're really having trouble getting them off the couch and into the backyard for a run around, try including 30 minutes of physical activity as part of their daily schedule - add it to their rules, curfews and guidelines list so they realise how serious you are about them getting regular exercise.

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