The Parents’ Role in Developing Children’s Obesity and Dental Caries

Executive Summary

Obesity and dental caries are typical for many Australian children under the age of 12, as it is stated according to national surveys and studies. Many different factors can influence the progress of these diseases, but referring to the age period for the diseases’ development, it is necessary to focus on the parents’ role in influencing the children’s health-related to the development of obesity and dental caries. The purpose of this brief report is to determine the parental factors which are important to influence the progress of the diseases because these health problems are interconnected, and are often caused by the same factors, and the purpose is also is in provide recommendations for policies to overcome the modifiable parental factors. The selected age group discussed in the brief report is the pre-schoolers aged 2-6 years. The importance of the brief report and issues discussed is in the fact that obesity and dental caries are prioritized problems to be examined and presented in Australia during recent years because of the increased disease rates among preschoolers.

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The increased rates of obesity and dental caries among preschool children are observed in Australia during recent years, causing the active development of policies to prevent the spread of the tendency. Although there is a variety of factors affecting the pre-schooler’s obesity and dental caries, the parental factors are the most important ones to influence the diseases’ development because the parental impact is the most significant force to influence the children’s behaviors and habits during the stated age period.

Why is this issue important?

The increased rates related to obesity and dental caries prevalence in the Australian pre-schoolers support the idea that the issue is important and requires immediate resolution. Comparing the results of the surveys conducted in 2002-2004 and 2012 years, it is possible to note that the numbers related to the prevalence of the disease in the Australian preschool children increased significantly, and today a quarter of 2-6-years old Australian children are considered as obese when more than the half of the children belonging to the same age category are discussed as having dental caries. As a result, it is necessary to propose and develop effective policies to predict and avoid the further increase in these diseases’ prevalence rates because of the severe health consequences. The high rates associated with obesity and dental caries related to the Australian pre-schoolers lead to the progress of the future health problems in the Australian children and adolescents, affecting the children’s quality of life and the social situation in the country.

Parents play the important role in developing early health-related behaviors in pre-school children. Thus, the parental impact can be discussed as the factor provoking the development of obesity and dental caries as well as the factor to contribute to ceasing the negative tendencies. The preschooler’s body weight and development of health-related behaviors depend significantly on the parents’ eating habits and behavioural patterns because children at the age of 2-6behavioralinclined to imitate the parents’ behaviors and attitudes. As a result, parents play a critical role in developing children’s positive health care behaviors related to eating and hygiene patterns. The problem is in the fact that the particular features of children’s eating and health care behaviors influence the progress of obesity and dental caries in their correlation, and much attention should be paid to the position of parents about developing the children’s protective and preventive eating and health care behaviors.

What does the research tell us?

The development of obesity and dental caries among the Australian children belonging to the 2-6 years age group is important health care and psychological issue because of the intensively increasing diseases prevalence rates. To discuss the current situation related to the prevalence of these diseases among Australian preschool children, it is necessary to refer to surveys and studies conducted during the recent decade to analyze the problem completely. Following the Australian statistics on the issue, it is important to pay attention to the fact that a decade ago, about 16% of the Australian pre-schoolers were discussed as overweight or obese, as it is stated according to the data of 2002-2004. In recent years, the situation has changed significantly, and about 25% of Australian preschool children are considered overweight and obese according to the data of 2012 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2012; Arora, Scott, & Bhole, 2011). Referring to the problem of dental care, recent studies indicate that dental caries can affect more than 50% of 2-6-years old Australian children (AIHW, 2012; Hooley et al., 2012b, p. 874). The importance of this issue is accentuated with the fact that the current disease prevalence rates tend to increase, and the surveys and reports state that during a decade, the obesity and dental caries rates can increase by 10-25% if the issue is not overcome with the help of the necessary policies (AIHW, 2012). The problem is in the fact that if the high prevalence rates on obesity and dental caries are observed about the preschool children, the same high rates will be observed in several years about school children and adolescents because obesity and dental caries are discussed as chronic diseases (Arrow, Raheb, & Miller, 2013).

The problem requires a detailed discussion because of the variety of short-term and long-term negative physical and psychological effects on the children’s health. Thus, inappropriate dietary practices often lead to the development of obesity and dental diseases. The short-term physical effects associated with obesity and dental caries are the progress of the associated oral diseases, the problems with digestion and metabolism. Inappropriate dietary practices with a lot of sugar provoke obesity along with dental diseases, and these practices are also associated with the fact that unhealthy eating patterns become regular patterns for children of all ages. If the short-term health problems related to obesity and dental diseases are interconnected, the long-term health problems are more significant, and they influence the children’s health more dramatically because children become suffer from the risks of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes (Arrow, Raheb, & Miller, 2013). Moreover, there is a range of associated psychological problems. The immediate negative effects experienced by pre-schoolers about changes in their health status are the changes in the quality of life. The long-term psychological effects associated with obesity and dental diseases can include the fear of personal interactions and problems with self-esteem. Furthermore, there are also economic implications of the children’s obesity and dental diseases because significant amounts of money are spent by the Australian government annually to improve the children’s health and support the health care and prevention programs (Silva-Sanigorski et al., 2011).

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The common risk factors for obesity and dental caries in Australian pre-school children are the focus on unhealthy high-calorie food and the prevalence of sweet drinks and products in a diet. The factors that cause both diseases when the lack of physical activity and the sedentary lifestyle are influential for the progress of obesity, and the inappropriate health-related behaviors cause dental caries (Hooley, Skouteris, & Millar, 2012).

Parents influence the development of obesity and dental caries significantly. If such factors as the low-income status of the Australian families belong to the socio-economic sphere and cannot be changed, such factors as the parents’ health care behaviors and eating patterns are modifiable and should be discussed in detail. If parents do not pay attention to their feeding styles and their eating behaviors, such approaches can cause the children’s obesity and dental caries because children are deprived of the opportunity to observe the pattern of eating such healthy food as vegetables and fruit, for instance (Champion et al., 2012; Hooley et al., 2012a). The parents’ focus on food as the reward or pressure associated with eating indirectly causes children’s obesity. Moreover, role modeling and the parent’s lifestyle and physical activity are also important for affecting the children’s behaviors because children are inclined to eat those products and follow those lifestyles which are eaten and followed by their parents (Skouteris et al., 2011, p. 316). According to the researchers, “the first five years of life are a time of rapid physical growth and change and are the years when eating behaviors that can serve as a foundation for future eating patterns develop” (Savage, Fisher, & Birch, 2007, p. 31). This idea is also relevant to oral diseases because children need to imitate their parents’ meal-time practices, reflect their attitudes and perceptions. When parents provide children with healthy food options, the risks of obesity and dental caries decrease (Skouteris et al., 2011, p. 317).

What are the implications of the research?

The main implications related to obesity and dental problems in the Australian pre-school children are associated with the idea that the high diseases prevalence rates are caused by inappropriate health care and eating behaviors, such as the focus on consuming and eating unhealthy food, ineffective feeding practices, the sedentary lifestyle, and the lack of the physical activities. Parents play the important role in influencing these processes, and the modifiable parental risk factors that contribute to the development of obesity and dental caries are parents’ eating patterns, feeding practices, role modeling, and parents’ physical activity. It is important to note that these factors can be affected with the help of the appropriate policies.

Considerations for policy

To contribute to resolving the problematic health care issues, it is necessary to provide recommendations for policy related to the parental impact on dental disease and pre-school children’s overweight.

  • It is important to educate parents that the children need to be involved in early health promotion practices such as oral hygiene and eating behaviors with a focus on positive motivation and guidance. Parents should be provided with the necessary literature in which the effects of unhealthy food are discussed along with the role of personal example and role modeling for forming the children’s behaviors.
  • The next recommendation is based on the necessity to provide support for increasing the parents’ physical activity which can lead to increasing the children’s physical activity because of the principle of role modeling. It is necessary to develop programs according to which the physical activity in families is stimulated with references to behavior management strategies.

References

Arora, A., Scott, J., & Bhole, S. (2011). Early childhood feeding practices and dental caries in preschool children: a multi-centre birth cohort study. BMC Public Health, 11(1), 28-35.

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Arrow, P., Raheb, J., & Miller, M. (2013). Brief oral health promotion intervention among parents of young children to reduce early childhood dental decay. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 245-280.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2012). Australia’s health 2012 series no. 13. Cat. no. AUS 156. Canberra: AIHW.

Champion, S., Rumbold, A., Steele, E., Giles, L., Davies, M., & Moore, V. (2012). Parental work schedules and child overweight and obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 36(4), 573-580.

Hooley, M., Skouteris, H., Boganin, C., Satur, J., & Kilpatrick, N. (2012a). Body mass index and dental caries in children and adolescents: a systematic review of literature published 2004 to 2011. Systematic Reviews, 1(1), 57-83.

Hooley, M., Skouteris, H., Boganin, C., Satur, J., & Kilpatrick, N. (2012b). Parental influence and the development of dental caries in children aged 0–6 years: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Dentistry, 40(1), 873-885.

Hooley, M., Skouteris, H., & Millar, L. (2012). The relationship between childhood weight, dental caries and eating practices in children aged 4-8 years in Australia, 2004-2008. Pediatric Obesity, 7(6), 461-470.

Savage, J., Fisher, J., & Birch, L. (2007). Parental influence on eating behavior: Conception to adolescence. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 35(1), 22-34.

Silva-Sanigorski, A., Waters, E., Calache, E., Smith, M., Gold, L., & Gussy, M. (2011). Splash!: a prospective birth cohort study of the impact of environmental, social and family-level influences on child oral health and obesity related risk factors and outcomes. BMC Public Health, 11(1), 505-534.

Skouteris, H., McCabe, M., Swinburn, B., Newgreen, V., Sacher, P., & Chadwick, P. (2011). Parental influence and obesity prevention in pre-schoolers: a systematic review of interventions. Obesity Reviews, 12(1), 315–328.

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