Mothers tend to take their children to fast-food outlets for different reasons to fathers.
Traditionally, mothers are depicted as the ones who choose what to feed their children. While fathers turn up just in time to put their feet under the table.
But a new report suggests that men need to make more of an effort to make the right choices for their children, as it is mens’ decisions that have a more lasting effect.
A study, conducted by Texas AgriLife Research, found that when fathers choose to feed their families unhealthy food – for example by taking them to a fast-food restaurant – they are more likely to pass on the message that eating unhealthily is OK.
They are therefore more likely to have obese children.
In contrast, fathers who make more of an effort with dinner time are more likely to have healthy-eating children.
‘Dads who think that dinner time is a special family time certainly do not see a fast-food restaurant as an appropriate place for that special family time, so this means that his kids are spending less time in those places,’ said Dr. Alex McIntosh, an AgriLife Research sociologist.
‘Dads who have no trouble eating food in a fast-food restaurant are going to be more likely to have kids who do so.’
The report, published in The Journal of Nutritional Life and Behaviour, argues that mothers have less of an influence because they have different reasons for feeding their children unhealthy food.
McIntosh believes that when fathers take their children to a fast-food restaurant it is seen as a treat. But when mothers are more relaxed about eating unhealthy food it is usually either because they are neglectful, or because they do not have the time to feed their children properly.
‘So mothers are not unimportant when it comes to eating out choices,’ he said, ‘but in terms of statistical findings, the father findings are stronger.
‘Traditionally academics have blamed mothers for everything that goes wrong with children, especially when it comes to food,’ he added.
‘But I think it’s pretty clear that fathers have a substantial influence over what children are eating. And if that’s the case, then they need to be the target of education just like mothers.’
The study began as a 15-month look at parents’ use of time and how that impacted on their meal choices and those of their children.
It focused on the difference between fast-food and more up-market restaurants, because past studies have shown a strong correlation between fast-food consumption and weight gain.
So parents’ influence on childhood obesity was investigated by looking at their choice of restaurants.
McIntosh said: ‘To our surprise, it was father’s time spent at fast-food restaurants — not mother’s time spent there – that was associated with kids’ time spent in a fast-food place.’
‘For a long time fathers have been told that they need to spend more time with their children. But often when this message is being transmitted, the message is “you should be having fun with your children.”‘
He argued that the message to fathers should be that they have some responsibility just like mothers to raise healthy, well-adjusted children.
Also, fathers need to know more about nutritional content of fast food which might help them choose differently.
‘When I mention these findings in class, my students say they can fully understand, because when they’re with dad, he gives them choices,’ said McIntosh, who also is a professor at Texas A&M University.
‘They are the ones who get to choose where to eat or, if they are in a grocery store, what to buy as a snack.
‘So basically all you really need is a dad who says, “no, I think we ought to eat someplace else and this is why,”‘ he said.
‘It’s about a father taking more of a responsible role when he’s parenting.’
Via Daily Mail