At Wellspring, we know that family involvement and support can have a huge impact on the success of young weight controllers in the long-run. In one study completed last year, Wellspring researchers evaluated whether parents of highly successful campers (those who continued losing weight one year after camp) followed the program more completely compared to parents of campers who regained some weight after camp.
The answer was yes. Parents who used the Wellspring Plan to change their own lifestyles were far more likely to have very successful campers compared to parents who did not follow the program.
We were reminded of this study a few weeks ago when we read a University of Arizona study that demonstrated the converse proposition, namely that in families where parents do not work to make lifestyle changes when necessary to improve health and wellness, children probably won’t change either.
The Arizona study evaluated couples in which both members were smokers, or in which only one member was a smoker. The smoking couples felt closer when they were both smoking, whereas the mixed smoking couples felt more distant when only one member was smoking.
The researchers concluded that having a partner who also smokes makes a huge difference in how smoking fits the couple’s relationship (e.g. as an irritant or an ally), which in turn has implications for helping one or both partners quit.
As the authors stated, human issues like smoking or being overweight rarely occur in a vacuum, but persist as part of ongoing social interaction in which causes and effects are interwoven. One person’s behavior can set the stage for what another does.
It’s worth noting that the smoking-overweight link also made an appearance last week in a very well publicized study published by researchers from the University of Oxford. The study analyzed prior studies that involved 900,000 people and concluded that obesity reduces life expectancy by three years, while extreme obesity (100 lbs. or more) reduces lifespan by as much as 10 years.
Researchers noted that the only other known issue that reduces life expectancy by 10 years is smoking: “If you continue to smoke, it takes an average of 10 years off your life. Being very obese has about the same effect.”
The good news is that establishing a major shift in lifestyle at home can go a long way toward improving weight control in the entire family, helping to create successful weight controlling children and teens – right along side of their weight controlling parents.
In another illustration of this point, a study in the Journal of Nutrition, Education and Behavior out of the School of Public Health, University of Minnesota demonstrated that teens who participated in regular family meals reported more healthful diets and meal patterns compared to adolescents without regular family meals.
Specifically, having regular family meals in the period of early to mid adolescence (11-15) was associated with much healthier eating five years later.
So here’s an action item for this week: Do your best to sit down and have dinner with your child every night if possible.
The path to weight control is extremely challenging and varies from child to child, family to family. But in every case, families that work on this challenge together, even one meal at a time, have a much better chance of making progress together.