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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
from diverse socioeconomic categories actually cite a “parental time famine”—insufficient time to spend with their children. Economic and time constraints, as well as the stresses and challenges of daily living, may make healthful eating and increased physical activity a difficult reality on a day-to-day basis for many families (Devine et al., 2003).
The committee has adopted an ecological framework that considers children and youth as being influenced primarily by the family, particularly in the younger years, though other micro-environments—including the neighborhood, workplace, and school—also have important impacts on parenting and on individual and family functioning (see Chapter 3). In this ecological framework, parenting is influenced by the larger (macro) economic, political, social, and physical environments, as well as by socioeconomic status, parental goals, personal resources, and child characteristics (Parke and Buriel, 1998). Cultural norms are also an important factor. For example, parents may feel pressured to contribute cookies or soft drinks to the classroom or child-care setting if the other children are bringing in similar foods and beverages. On the other hand, if new values about what constitutes appropriate food choices for children become normative, this can produce positive changes in individual families and in their children’s daytime environments.
The ecological perspective leads to strategies that target parents directly, as well as to other strategies designed to influence contextual factors that might otherwise serve to undermine healthful family values and practices. Therefore, a number of the committee’s recommendations focus on promoting changes in nonhome settings (e.g., schools, communities, the built environment, the media) in order to support parents in their efforts to serve as positive models for children’s eating and physical activity and to allow them to provide children with appropriate environments for preventing obesity. This is particularly important for families from high-risk populations who live in conditions that are not supportive of healthful lifestyles.
From a practical standpoint, parents play a fundamental role as household policy makers. They make daily decisions on recreational opportunities, food availability at home, and children’s allowances; they determine the setting for foods eaten in the home; and they implement countless other rules and policies that influence the extent to which various members of the family engage in healthful eating and physical activity.
The committee acknowledges the broad and diverse nature of families in the United States. According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, in 2002 there were more than 72 million children (under 18 years of age) in the United States (Fields, 2003). Approximately 69 percent of them lived with two parents, 23 percent lived with only their mother, approximately 5 percent lived with their father, and 4 percent lived with other family members, usually grandparents, or in other situations (Fields, 2003). This report