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Harsh Parenting and Risk of Obesity

Let me tell you at the outset that this blog reports on disturbing news, and that the research and conclusions of a study I’m going to tell you about ring absolutely true to what I’ve encountered during 30-plus years of treating people with eating and weight concerns. The article summarizes the conclusions of a study about parenting and childhood obesity (article: “Parents’ harsh tactics raise child’s obesity risk,” Futurity Health and Medicine, 4/20/16; study: “Harsh parenting, physical health, and the protective role of positive parent-adolescent relationships” by Schofield, Conger, Gonzales and Merrick, Social Science and Medicine, vol. 156, 5/16, pp. 18-26).

“Harsh parenting may increase a child’s risk for poor physical health and obesity as they get older. And attempts by one parent to counterbalance the harsh behavior are not always effective in lessening the risk. Harsh parenting was defined as parents who reject, coerce, are physically aggressive, and are self-centered,” including “signs of physical aggression, such as pinching and pushing.” Says Thomas Schofield, assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, “Harshness leads to problems with physical health, and no matter how hard a spouse tries, they may not be able to erase those effects.”

Unfortunately, parents don’t necessarily see themselves as mistreating their children and often defend such neglect or abuse. They simply parent the way they were raised or lack skills to do a better job. However, even if they don’t acknowledge engaging in mistreatment, it is still going on and it still has deleterious consequences. The article goes on to explain that “…harsh parenting can expose children to a chronic stressful environment for as long as two decades. Further exposure can have a lasting effect on the developing brain during childhood and adolescence.”

In childhood, did you chronically experience emotional or physical abandonment, fear, rejection, shaming, yelling, the cold shoulder, rigid rules, parental narcissism, or other harsh, controlling or demeaning disciplinary tactics? If so, please recognize how poor parenting may have played a part in inducing chronic stress and dysregulating your young nervous system which may have affected your eating today and even have promoted weight gain and poor health. If you’re a parent, please take heed on what “harsh tactics” may be doing to your children. Remember—you are accountable for all that happens in your home, even if you are not the one mistreating your children, but are allowing others to engage in harsh tactics. In either case, get help for yourself and your children now.

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