PARENTAL INFLUENCES ON CHILDHOOD OBESITY

By Michael Hardy | Spring 2018

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Elizabeth Moore has spent her career studying the impact of food advertising on children, authoring or co-authoring more than a dozen academic papers in her field’s most prestigious journals. It’s an important topic. Since 1980, the proportion of overweight children worldwide has grown by 50 percent; in the U.S. alone, nearly 1 in 5 children are now overweight or obese.

In a study published last year in The Journal of Consumer Research, Moore, along with co-authors William Wilkie of Mendoza and Debra M. Desrochers of London’s Westminster Business School, turned her attention to parental responsibility.

The researchers relied on a theoretical framework that classifies parenting styles as “Authoritative” (high warmth, high control), “Indulgent/Permissive” (high warmth, low control), “Authoritarian” (low warmth, high control), and “Neglectful” (low warmth, low control). Within those categories, research indicates that the children of Authoritative parents are at lower risk of becoming obese, while the children of Authoritarian, Indulgent/Permissive and Neglectful parents are at greater risk.

That was one finding of the research, which looked at other aspects of parental influence as well, such as overt and covert controls. The problem, as anyone who was forced to eat asparagus can attest, is that children often rebel against such restrictions, leading to future avoidance of mandated foods and overeating of prohibited foods.

Moore is the first to acknowledge the difficulty parents have in establishing good eating habits, as long as our culture remains obesogenic — one that promotes habits that lead to obesity.

“What we view now as overweight as a culture has changed, so what we used to see as overweight we now see as normal — there’s a cultural acceptance of obesity,” she said. “That’s a problem.”


Elizabeth Moore is an associate professor of marketing who researches in the area of marketing and society, with a focus on advertising to children and its effect on childhood obesity rates. She earned her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College, and her master’s and doctorate from the University of Florida.

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