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Course Home > Assessing > Behavioral Factors > Parent/Adult Behavior

In This Module:

Extent of the Problem

Behavioral Factors

A Day in the Life


Child Behavior


Parent/Adult Behavior


Strategies for Change


Course Project - Part 1 - Assessing Behavioral Factors

Environmental Factors

P.E.R. Factors

Module 2 Wrap-Up

Parent/Adult Behavior

Although there are many aspects of a child's day that parents cannot control, they can influence some of the behaviors that impact a child's risk of excessive weight gain. Other adults who work with children are also very important, since children spend a lot of time in child care, school, and after-school settings. This section recommends strategies for parents and adults who work with children to promote healthful eating and physical activity in children.

Note that none of these recommendations address child weight directly. Encouraging children to diet to lose weight can be detrimental both physically and socially. Rather, the focus should be on strategies that encourage healthy eating and activity behaviors in all children, regardless of weight status. You may want to print this page for future reference. (Printer-friendly version)


Societal changes over the past 20-30 years have dramatically influenced the way people live, eat, and play. Single parents, two working parents, and one or more parents with multiple jobs all are more common.1, 2

Time constraints make it hard for parents to provide healthful snacks and meals. Americans consume one-third of their calories as food prepared away from home.3 The availability of quick, accessible food has increased dramatically, but nutrient-dense foods and beverages such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and fiber-rich foods, are not readily available and are more costly than low-nutrient, high calorie items.4

Time constraints, concerns about the safety of children playing outside unsupervised, and the ready availability of sedentary distractions such as TV and video games also make it hard for parents to enable their children to be physically active.


Despite these challenges, there are things parents and adults can do:5

Make physical activity fun show details

Limit children's television and video game time show details

Offer a variety of healthy foods show details

Limit access to high-calorie, low-nutrient beverages and foods show details

Help children listen to body signals of hunger and fullness:
Don't excessively control intake
show details

Model healthful eating and physical activity practices show details

Avoid using food as a reward show details

Focus on lifestyle and not weight show details

Breastfeed show details

For more information and resources, go to Tools for You and More Info for this course on the Cornell NutritionWorks website at

Printer-friendly version

1 Fields J, Casper L. America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2000. Washington D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau; 2001.

2 Ahlburg DA, De Vita CJ. New realities of the American family. Popul Bull. 1992;47:1-44.

3 Guthrie JF, Lin BH, Frazao E. Role of food prepared away from home in the American diet, 1977-78 versus 1994-96: Changes and consequences. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2002;34:140-150.

4 Drewnowski A, Specter SE. Poverty and obesity: The role of energy density and energy costs. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79(1):6-16.

5 Ritchie LD, Welk G, Styne D, Gerstein DE, Crawford PB. Family environment and pediatric overweight: What is a parent to do? J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105(supple 1):S70-S79.

6 Sallis JF, Prochaska JJ, Taylor WC. A review of correlates of physical activity of children and adolescents. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;32:963-975.

7 Epstein L, Valoski A, Vara L, et al. Effects of decreasing sedentary behavior and increasing activity on weight change in obese children. Health Psychol. 1995;14(2):109-115.

8 Dietz W, Gortmaker S. Preventing obesity in children and adolescents. Annu Rev Public Health. 2001;22:337-353.

9 Gortmaker SL, Peterson K, Wiecha J, et al. Reducing obesity via a school-based interdisciplinary intervention among youth: Planet Health. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1999;153(4):409-418.

10 Robinson TN. Reducing children's television viewing to prevent obesity: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1999;282(16):1561-1567.

11 American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Public Education. Children, adolescents, and television. Pediatrics. 2001;107(2):423-426.

12 Kaiser Family Foundation. Kids and Media at the New Millennium. Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; 1999.

13 Gentile DA, Walsh DA. A normative study of family media habits. J Appl Dev Psychol. 2002;23:157-178.

14 Sullivan S, Birch L. Pass the sugar, pass the salt: Experience dictates preference. Dev Psychol. 1990;26(4):546-551.

15 Dalton S. Our Overweight Children: What Parents, Schools and Communities Can Do to Control the Fatness Epidemic. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 2004.

16 Birch LL, Marlin DW, Rotter J. Eating as the "means" activity in a contingency: Effects on young children's food preference. Child Dev. 1985;55:431-439.

17 Fisher JO, Birch LL. Restricting access to palatable foods affects children's behavioral response, food selection and intake. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69:1264-1272.

18 Fisher JO, Birch LL. Eating in the absence of hunger and overweight in girls from 5 to 7 years of age. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;76:226-231.

19 Johnson SL, Birch LL. Parents' and children's adiposity and eating style. Pediatrics. 1994;94:653-661.

20 Satter E. Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming. Madison, WI: Kelcy Press; 2005.

21 Eisenberg M, Olson R, Neumark-Sztainer D, M S, Bearinger L. Correlations between family meals and psychosocial well-being among adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158(8):792-796.

22 Neumark-Sztainer D, Hannan PJ, Story M, Croll J, Perry C. Family meal patterns: Associations with sociodemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003;103(3):317-322.

23 Gillman MW, Rifas-Shiman SL, Frazier AL, et al. Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Arch Fam Med. 2000;9:235-240.

24 Coon KA, Goldberg J, Rogers BL, Tucker KL. Relationships between use of television during meals and children's food consumption patterns. Pediatrics. 2001;107(1):e7.

25 Birch LL. Development of food preferences. Annu Rev Nutr. 1999;19:41-62.

26 Fisher JO, Birch LL, Smiciklas-Wright H. Breast-feeding through the first year predicts maternal control in feeding and subsequent toddler energy intakes. J Am Diet Assoc. 2000;100:641-646.

27 Mennella JA. Mother's milk: A medium for early flavor experiences. J Hum Lact. 1995:1:39-45.

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