As in many areas of life, parental involvement has a positive effect on weight management and other health promotion behaviors, according to a new report.
The report, published in Obesity, investigated how parental general monitoring—a general awareness of a teenager’s activities in various areas—affected weight and associated behaviors.1
Jan Wallander, PhD, professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of California (UC), Merced, California, and the Health Sciences Research Institute, UC-Merced, led the study and says it is clear that parental general monitoring shows promise in aiding weight management, as well as in other measures.
“Parental general monitoring appears a useful parenting strategy to influence positive and health development, including healthier food intake, activity level, and weight status,” Wallander says.
The study investigated more than 4000 teenagers in seventh grade across Alabama, California, and Texas. Roughly a third were African American, a third were Latino, and a third were white. Individual interviews were conducted with study participants and 1 or both parents about parental general monitoring in regard to exercise, dietary intake, and screen time. Also, measurements of height and weight were taken for the study participants.
The study revealed that parental general monitoring had an inverse relationship with weight overall and was linked to increased physical activity and decreased screen time—but only in white and Latino cohorts.
A broader parenting strategy
The research team notes that whereas parental general monitoring is not a narrowly focused intervention, it “represents a general parenting strategy that is applied broadly to support their positive development.” A reciprocal process wherein parents and adolescents engage with one another, the study authors say this method is particularly effective because of the open communication and awareness it promotes between parents and their teenagers, as well as strengthening the parent/child bond. With this open line of communication and strong bond, Wallander notes that the benefits of parental general monitoring don’t end with the results found in this study.
“Parental general monitoring is not focused on food intake, activity, or weight, but is a general parenting strategy. It is a context‐specific practice in which parents maintain awareness of an adolescent’s whereabouts and activities based on physical presence and communication with the adolescent,” Wallander says. “Further, parental presence and communication undergird an approach of positive engagement between parent and child, which should foster healthy child development. Indeed, parental general monitoring has been associated with better developmental outcomes broadly, including better school achievement, reduced behavior problems, and health‐risk behaviors such as alcohol intake and substance use.”
The study concludes by suggesting that positive parenting skills and values should be considered as part of obesity reduction and prevention programs.
“Given the relatively weak effects of most obesity interventions, it could be worthwhile to broaden the scope by addressing how parents communicate with, manage, and support their children’s development over and beyond specifically targeting diet and activity patterns,” the report notes.
“That parental general monitoring appears influential also for weight-related behaviors and status, extending its positive impact on a range of positive developmental outcomes in children and youth,” Wallander adds. “Healthcare professionals should foster engaged parenting from early in life that incorporates ongoing communications and interaction with the child and encouraging the child to communicate about his/her life with parents.”
Kim KW, Wallander JL, Felt JM, Elliott MN, Schuster MA. Associations of parental general monitoring with adolescent weight-related behaviors and weight status. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2019;27(2):280-287.