Health-related parenting behaviours across early childhood

Family at beach

New research has looked at the impact of health-related parenting behaviours, such as food, smoking, screen time and physical activity, on children in the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study.

New research has looked at the impact of health-related parenting behaviours, such as food, smoking, screen time and physical activity, on children in the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study. 

The research used used data from the 6,000-strong cohort at four timepoints - the antenatal wave and when the children were nine-months, two-years, and four-and-a-half-years old. 

The research found that most parents provided ‘healthful’ behavioural environments (eg, higher consumption of vegetables and fruit) for their children. With increasing child age, however, it became harder to exert healthful parenting behaviours. For example, at nine-months, 76% of children were in the more ‘healthful’ parenting behaviour profile, but this dropped to 40% of children when they were two-years of age. 

Children at the greatest risk of being exposed to less ‘healthful’ parental behaviours were those with mothers with lower educational attainment, tamariki Māori, Pacifica, and Asian children. 

The researchers, from Victoria University of Wellington and University of Waikato, say that promoting healthy behaviours has the most impact in the antenatal and infancy period of life, however health promotion by itself seems to elicit diminishing returns as children grow older.

The researchers say their results suggest larger contextual and structural factors are important for understanding persistent inequities in children’s health and that broader factors such as combating systemic racism, raising household incomes, and ensuring that high-deprivation communities have the additional resources to thrive, may serve to promote more healthful behaviours and reduce inequalities over childhood. 

You can read the full report here