Does Keeping Kids Away From Junk Food Backfire?

Kids rushing for candy

When I wrote the post a while ago about obese parents being more likely to have obese children, one of my readers wrote this: “Though these things [pizza and burgers] being treats might sound like a good thing it kind of backfired, and when I got older and realized I could get these things when *I* wanted and no one could control my food any longer, I kind of swung the other way for a while and ate too much junk.”

I thought it would make a really interesting topic for a blog post because let’s face it – all of us were once children and a lot of us have issues with weight. Plus, many of my readers are parents, grandparents, or have a significant role in a child’s life.

I did some research and found a study published in the April 2013 edition of Pediatrics journal entitled, “Food-Related Parenting Practices and Adolescent Weight Status: A Population-Based Study.” The study found that many parents in the study tried to control how much food a child ate. In some cases the parents pushed food on their kids and in other cases the parents restricted foods from their children.

Parents with obese children tended to attempt to restrict food while parents with normal weight children often pushed food, or pressured their children to eat more. The researchers found that parents with normal weight children pushed food on their kids more often than parents with overweight children restricted food.

Part of the conclusion of the article stated:

“. . .parents should be educated and empowered through anticipatory guidance to encourage moderation rather than overconsumption and emphasize healthful food choices rather than restrictive eating patterns.”

While the study did not delve into what impact these food restrictions or pressures to eat would have on the children later, I personally wonder what effect this has on the choices kids make as they get older.

Personally, I grew up in a family that rarely went out to eat, had healthy well-balanced meals prepared every evening, and where dessert was an occasional treat rather than an every day occurrence. My parents did not push me to eat nor did they restrict my food intake. I did go on my first diet (a liquid one) when I was in high school, so there were obviously some conversations surrounding my increasing weight.

By the way, I lost weight on that diet and gained it back as soon as I began to eat. Big surprise. 

However, even though we had mostly healthy foods, I was very much attracted to candy at the convenience store, and made frequent trips to fast food restaurants once I had my driver’s license. It was like the fascination/attraction with unhealthy foods had been dormant and was then unleashed. (There were some underlying emotional issues going on as well.)

In college I gained a bit of weight but my real weight gain came on once I got married. I don’t think that having healthy food around the house and not having an abundance of junk food around caused me to rebel later. Instead, for me personally, there were unhealthy emotional attachments I had to food and many, many bad habits I needed to break in order to lose 150 pounds.

The recommendations of the study for parents to be educated and empowered is a good one.

I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve talked to who honestly did not know what to feed their kids for lunch or dinner and felt powerless to shape their family’s dietary habits. The bonus to education and empowerment is that knowledge is often passed onto the children.

I have known kids who left home at a healthy weight and went crazy for junk food but they did end up moderating their choices and never became obese like I did. I know fewer children who were obese or overweight growing up and managed to shed the weight and keep it off well into adulthood. That’s the sad fact of children who face obesity. It’s often a lifelong struggle to get back to a healthy weight.

What do you think? Does keeping kids away from junk food backfire later? What if the child is already overweight? What then? Diane

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