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The relationship between parenting styles and obesity levels in Australian children

Childhood obesity, one of the most common worldwide epidemics, is a prevailing issue and requires crucial attention (Bhadoria et al. 2015). Obesity, in general, affects the physical and psychological wellbeing of the individuals affected, as well as increases the risk of other premature illnesses including cardiovascular disease, particular types of cancer, hypertension, stroke, and even premature death (Foss & Dyrstad, 2011). The medical illnesses related to obesity typically occur in adulthood, nonetheless, adults have a low probability of achieving sustained weight loss (Whitaker et al. 1997). As a result, it is imperative to prevent obesity in childhood in addition to effectively treating overweight children. Due to the seriousness, prevalence, and associated illnesses of obesity, it is not surprising that there is already a large amount of existing literature on obesity and its various causes (Bhadoria et al. 2015; Friedman, 2009; Martinez, 2000). Diet and physical exercise have been thoroughly investigated in various studies as triggers for obesity and have been securely established as such (Enriori et al. 2007; Martinez, 2000). However, other factors affecting obesity should also be considered. The link between obesity and parenting style, although has been briefly studied, has not yet been adequately explored (Fuemmeler et al. 2012; Lane, Bluetone, and Burke, 2013; Melis Yavuz and Selcuk, 2018; Rhee et al. 2006; Sokol, Qin, and Poti, 2017; Ventura and Birch, 2008; Wake et al. 2007).

Davison and Birch (2001) strongly advocate the significance of understanding how parenting styles play a part in the causal pathways leading to obesity. According to Baumrind’s Theory, there is a close relationship between parenting styles and children’s behaviour, which lead to distinct outcomes in children’s lives (Baumrind, 2002). Parenting style dominantly determines the type of environment a child is raised in. Consequently, parenting styles have a tendency to influence the eating habits of children and ultimately affect their health and wellbeing, including their susceptibility to become obese. This influence can be attributed to child feeding practices, varieties of food accessible in the home, nutritional familiarity, and parent encouragement/discouragement of physical activity.

The four different parenting styles, which evolve from two main domains: parental involvement (closeness, warmth) and demandingness (behavioural control, supervision), include authoritarian (low involvement and high demandingness), authoritative (high involvement and demandingness), neglectful/uninvolved (low involvement and demandingness), and indulgent/permissive (high involvement and low demandingness) (Gafor, 2014; Osorio and Gonzalez-Camara, 2016; Wake et al. 2007). The indulgent parenting style can be characterised by parents who are warm and responsive, have minimal enforcement of rules and authority, give the child the liberty to make their own decisions, applies little to no punishment, and are lenient and indulgent (Gafor, 2014). Children of indulgent parenting often have impulsive behaviour, lack self-control, and possess egocentric tendencies. These are all qualities that may eventually lead to obesity, as these children are more likely to engage in impulsive eating binges and may lack the self-control to reject sweet treats and other unhealthy foods during the vital stages of their lives and may eventually cultivate those habits for the rest of their lives. Therefore, this study will focus on the indulgent parenting style. Hence, this study aims to investigate the association between children’s body mass index (kg/m2; BMI) status and the four classic parenting categories, which ultimately studies the relationship between parenting styles and children’s obesity levels. It is hypothesised that within the four parenting styles, the indulgent parenting style will have the highest obesity rate in children.


Design and sample

The parents of participating children were emailed a web address to a self-report online questionnaire. Upon completion, the parents were categorized into one of the four parenting styles. They were informed that participation was voluntary and that the answers would be anonymous. The children were assessed for their BMI using the InBody 570 body composition scans provided to each primary school.  The children were then categorised according to the International Obesity Task Force criteria for BMI as non-overweight, overweight, or obese (Cole et al. 2000). BMI values below 25 g/m2  were classified as non-overweight, values between 25 g/m2  to 30 g/m2  were classified as overweight, and values above 30 g/m2  were classified as obese (Mardolkar, 2017). The sample consisted of 232 children recruited via convenience sampling from four primary schools in Australia (North Melbourne Primary School, Carlton Gardens Primary School, St. Michael’s Primary School, and Fitzroy Primary School). The children were 6-8 years old (


= 7.28,


= 0.95) and were mostly male (63.9%). All children and their parents were briefed about the aims of the study and signed a written informed consent form. The study was approved by the Australian Institute of Family Studies ethics committee.


Parenting Style Index (PSI; Gracia, Garcia & Lila, 2008) was developed to assign the parents to one of the four parenting style categories. It measures parental warmth (alpha coefficient 0.9) and control (alpha coefficient 0.81). InBody570 body composition scan was used to assess children’s’ BMI.

Data analyses

To assess the relationship between parenting style and obesity levels, multivariate logistic regression analysis was used.


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