Healthy choices for kids
Parenting is certainly no easy task: the innumerable number of lifestyle choices to be made for the child can easily become dizzying. As a mother, Linda Quirke, a sociology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University understands and researches this.
Quirke’s current, on going research involves reviewing every Today’s Parent issue — a popular parenting magazine — from 1984 to 2012 and examining articles on topics related to childhood obesity, physical activity and leisure time.
“I’m interested how parenting has or hasn’t shifted over time,” said Quirke. She is hoping that the comparison in content across the different periods will give light to just that.
Although still in the early stages of her review, Quirke has already come across some notable patterns in parenting advice, especially in regards to childhood obesity.
“I’ve looked at the nineties and what advice is out there for parents in respect to childhood obesity and then I compared that with the last three years, and the discussion of childhood obesity is quite different,” explained Quirke. “It changes and shifts a lot between the nineties.”
One big difference she found was the way obesity was talked about. In the 1980s and 1990s, obesity was discussed more in relation to protecting the child’s self esteem.
“[People would say,] ‘The world is a cruel place and people tease kids who are overweight so this is how you want to position your discussion with your child about their health.’”
Therefore, articles advised parents to simply maintain their child’s weight and not overfeed them so they don’t feel bad about themselves.
In contrast, over the past three years, obesity was discussed more in terms of the health of the child and the healthiness of their diet. There was significantly more microanalysis of the inherent qualities of the all the foods being eaten and advice tended to be much more scrutinizing and specific.
“This has too much salt. This has too much sugar. Food is positioned in a slightly more sinister way,” said Quirke. “So parents are in an almost impossible position because they have to make these decisions in a practical way daily.”
Another notable difference Quirke discovered was who the articles on obesity were directed at. In the past, these articles and advice were mainly written for parents of overweight children. In recent years, however, they are directed at any and every parent whether their child is overweight or perfectly healthy.
“Obesity is [now] seen as something to be avoided, even if your child isn’t overweight,” explained Quirke. “It’s still positioned as something you need to be very vigilant about because it’s a risk to every child.”
Quirke’s research is still in progress and will also be examining other topics such as kids’ physical activities, leisure time and safety and danger.
She anticipates it to be completed in the next year or so.