Parents: A child’s first role model

Show your children healthy behaviours – eating well, sleeping well, exercising and managing stress

September 29, 2015

One-third of Canadian children are either overweight or obese. For many, controlling their weight will remain a lifelong struggle. Surprisingly, most parents under-estimate the powerful role that they play in establishing and maintaining their child’s healthy weight.

Eager to curb skyrocketing childhood obesity rates, Dr. Jean-Philippe Chaput, a CIHR-funded researcher, has dedicated his career to finding ways to prevent and control obesity. Dr. Chaput believes that it is essential for parents to model positive behavior. They must lead by example; demonstrate good eating habits (including a low-fat, low-sugar diet) and exercise regularly, either individually or as a family.

However, according to this award-winning scientist of the Healthy Active Living & Obesity (HALO) research group from the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), the most overlooked ingredients in maintaining healthy weight are sleep and effective stress management.

Dr. Chaput’s studies demonstrate that children who sleep less than 10 hours per night are 89% more likely to be overweight or obese and he recommends that parents make sleep a priority by instituting regular bedtimes for children and adults.


This is David Coulombe for CIHR. Eating well, sleeping well, exercising, these are very important. Unfortunately, in Ontario, doctors realize that little babies, starting at two years old, have obesity problems, type 2 diabetes and even high blood pressure. So today, my guest, to talk about all of these facts, is Dr. Jean-Philippe Chaput, who is a funded researcher for CIHR.

David: So, Dr. Chaput, the real situation with child obesity is not really good, is it?

Dr. Chaput: No, in Canada, about one-third of our kids are either overweight or obese and we know that most of them, when they are obese, they will remain obese adults. And we know all of the problems associated with excess body weight, not only physical problems, but mental problems as well. So we need to find better solutions to tackle this problem.

David: Children these days seem to be more interested in playing video games than going outside to play. This was not the case when we were young.

Dr. Chaput: No, I don’t think it’s the children’s fault. I think we, as a society, have created this environment where it’s just too easy for people to eat too much, to not move enough and I think, yes, it’s true, we spend much more time inside than before, but there are many problems with that. It can be due to safety concerns that parents don’t want their kids to be outside. We need to make the healthy choice.The easiest one for people at the moment, I think it’s for people to eat too much and not move enough.

David: So, we need to have a balance for children. They need to exercise and eat better?

Dr. Chaput: Yes, I think everything counts: a good night’s sleep, eating better, exercising more, and the management of stress. Mental health is a real issue for people dealing with excess body weight so we need to find their main drivers; the root causes of this excess body weight and those causes are different between people. It’s not one-size-fits-all. We need to adapt our approaches and interventions to the reality of each person and to each family.

David: We have a perception - we think that obese people are not in good physical shape—is that true or false?

Dr. Chaput: No, that’s false. It’s possible to be obese and very unhealthy, but I’ve also seen a lot of lean people who are very unhealthy because they smoke, they don’t exercise, they don’t eat well and I see some obese people maybe one third who are very healthy when you measure their blood pressure, cholesterol and so on. It’s only about behaviours, so because of your genes, some people will never be in the “good range” according to healthy body weight, but if they have good behaviours, that’s fine. I will never say to an obese person “Lose weight”, if all their behaviours are good, and their health is good, because it can be worse.

David: Last question, would you have a recommendation, a message for the parents or the teenagers that are watching us?

Dr. Chaput: For parents, my main tip or advice would be to be good role models for your kids. Go outside with your kids; teach them cooking skills and all those other things, because when the parents just show them these good behaviours, it’s easier for the kids.

David: Thank you Dr Chaput.

Dr. Chaput: Thank you.

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