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The Downside of Grandparents Taking Care of the Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

Remember the first time your kids spent the night alone with Grandma and Grandpa?

Ahhh, such sweet memories.

What about when they got home and threw up all over the bedroom floor because their bodies were still in sugar shock? Remember THAT?

It seems the older generation has taken spoiling grandchildren to a whole new level, and it's causing health problems for our kids. And we're not just talking about the barfing.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham did a study on this phenomenon using parents, grandparents and teachers in southern China to determine the differences in perceived causes of childhood obesity between local and migrant communities.

Although these findings, recently published in the journal PLOS ONE, did not consider children in the U.S., they did produce some interesting findings that might be useful for American families to think about when it comes to grandparents as frequent caregivers. In the study, researchers found lower rates of childhood obesity among kids who spent little to no time with their grandparents—affluent urban families.

What gives? Co-author of the study, Dr Bai Li, blamed the older generation's habit of, well, spoiling the kids. Overfeeding them, not requiring them to get up and move and do chores and things like that.

"The inappropriate behaviour of grandparents, including overfeeding and indulging through excusing the children from household chores, is another contributing factor, and differs greatly from that of parents, carers and school teachers. Conflicting child care beliefs and practices between grandparents and parents, and between grandparents and school teachers, are felt to undermine efforts to promote healthy behaviours in children."

Yeah, China isn't the only place that happens, now is it?

Children who are given junk food and allowed to lounge around the house—no matter where they live—will never burn enough calories to warrant the intake. As a result, these kids are at a greater (future) risk for health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

According to Kids Health, one in three children in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. Whats more, an estimated 2.7 million grandparents nationwide are now raising grandchildren, and about one-fifth of them have incomes that fall below the poverty line.

Although our parents mean well, too many snacks and sugary drinks—coupled with moderate activity—can eventually lead to health problems for our kids.

In those cases, where grandparents are the primary caregiver and economically strapped, spoiling children is not the issue—it's access to healthy foods and the ability to budget and pay for them. For the rest of those who rely on their parents to help out with the kids on occasion (or often), the aftermath of baked goods is all about love: a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.

But that doesn't mean the cupcakes (and juices and sodas and doughnuts) are consumed without consequence. Although our parents mean well, too many snacks and sugary drinks—coupled with moderate activity—can eventually lead to health problems for our kids.

If you feel your child is showing unusual signs of weight gain, here are some tips you can share with Grandma and Grandpa to reinforce a healthy lifestyle. (You're having the safety talk with them already, right?) Perhaps you can print them and slip a copy under their remote before Grandma turns on the blender.

In the meantime, continue talking to your kids about making healthy choices. Eventually, that mentality will seep into their brains and become a way of life. At least, that's the plan.

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