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Tiger Parenting Makes Kids Fat

Photograph by Getty Images

Looks like there's an unhealthy consequence to all that forced piano practice and homework shaming championed by Amy Chua in her much discussed book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Cubs of human moms who growl the most have an increased risk of being overweight, even as toddlers, and an even higher chance for obesity as they enter the tween years.

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A recent Canadian study found that certain parenting styles predicted a higher risk of obesity in children. As reported in Time, apparently kids of authoritarian parents do more emotional eating than those with parents of a warmer, more connected nature.

The study, lead authored by Lisa Kakinami, a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University, followed the families of 37,000 Canadian kids, ages newborn to 11, asking parents how they responded to their kids, whether they praised them and what discipline in their home looked like. Then Kakinami compared the health statistics of kids who came from families practicing two of the major parenting styles: authoritative and authoritarian. Authoritative parents set clear boundaries and enforce them with warmth, understanding and discussion. Authoritarian parents set strict rules, respond emotionally to wrongdoing and refuse discussion.

This study is just a start in looking at how parenting styles might affect kids' weight.

The researchers found that, in comparison to the kids of authoritative parents, children of authoritarian parents—those who laid down strict rules and responded harshly—were 30 percent more likely to be obese in the toddler and preschool years. At 6 to 11 years old, the kids of authoritarian parents were 37 percent more likely to be obese.

The study wasn't designed to figure out what about authoritarian parenting made kids eat more, exercise less or both. But some speculate that strict rules with little explanation create the "forbidden fruit" effect. Others say that the informed feedback from authoritative parents creates an environment where children could make better choices.

RELATED: Study: Tiger Moms Are Happy Moms

As fun as it is condemning Tiger Mom's ways, it's important to point out that, as with other studies in parenting and obesity, correlation is not causation. Moreover, this study is just a start in looking at how parenting styles might affect kids' weight. A similar study of parents who were transitioning from authoritarian to authoritative style could refute or underscore the importance of warmth, connection and giving kids reasons for boundaries.

Poverty is still a major factor in a child's risk for obesity, and the study controlled for this factor. The two other major categories of parenting style, permissive and uninvolved, were not examined.

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