Parents are entirely to blame for the obesity of their children, an explosive study suggests.
The Korean Society for the Study of Obesity said that 22.4 percent of children who do not eat dinner with their parents are obese, while the rate among kids who sit down to a family dinner is just 5.1 percent. The KSSO said this is the first-ever study linking childhood obesity with the living patterns at home.
Childhood obesity in Korea rose steadily from 5.8 percent in 1997 to 9.6 percent in 2012. The number of children and teens with diabetes surged from 15,100 in 2005 to 21,300 in 2013.
The KSSO studied nutritional intake from 2009 and 2013 and analyzed data on 3,281 children between six and 11 and their parents, as well as surveying 1,000 parents of elementary schoolchildren this year.
It concluded that mothers who consume more than one carbonated drink a week increase the risk of obesity in their children 1.6 times. Also, families that eat out more than 5.5 times a week consume 204 kcal a day more than families that stay in.
Kim Dae-jung, a doctor at Ajou University, said, "The problem is that children who do not have dinner with their families often eat fast food, which is high in calories and low in nutrition, and don't get enough exercise after their meal."
Chung So-chung at Konkuk University Medical Center said, "If children eat alone, they don't acquire a proper taste and only want salty, sweet or spicy foods. Eating together as a family is not just important from a purely nutritional point of view but also impacts what children learn about food."
Obese parents have a direct impact on childhood obesity. If the father is obese, the risk of obesity among his children increases 2.1 times, and if the mother is overweight 2.4 times. The risk of childhood obesity rises to 2.8 times if both parents are overweight.
But doctors said obesity is influenced more by the behavioral patterns of parents than genes. "Genetic factors play an important role in obesity, but in the case of childhood obesity, living habits and the environment have a bigger influence," according to Lee Ki-hyung at Korea University's Anam Hospital.
And Choi Jae-wook at Korea University said, "We can't say that obesity is inherited, since children with obesity learn the eating and living habits of their parents."
The KSSO's survey of 1,000 parents with kids in elementary school supports this view. Some 55.6 percent of parents with overweight children did not know how much their kids weigh, while only 50.2 percent of parents with normal or lower-than-average weights did not know.
Also, 67.8 percent of parents with obese children said they do not regularly check their weight. Some 63.3 percent of parents of obese kids said they take no steps to control their child's diet, while 44.4 percent said they do not recommend any form of exercise.