They asked parents about several behaviors, such as providing more fruits and vegetables and fewer soft drinks, salty snacks and candy; having more meals as a family; watching less television during dinner and encouraging children to make healthy food choices and be active. They also asked the parents if they encouraged their children to diet.
The only difference? Those who recognized their child was overweight were more apt to encourage their child to diet. "And that turns out to be bad," Neumark-Sztainer said. "Those kids actually weighed more five years later."
Both studies are concerning, said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and immediate past president of the American Dietetic Association.
"The fact that parents who know their children are overweight don't provide positive guidance, healthier food options and encouragement to get physical activity in is a big concern in that parents' behaviors eventually become their children's behaviors," she said. "It would seem that parents need more education on how to encourage healthy living."
What should parents do? Wang doesn't advocate eliminating sugary drinks but being educated about their role. "Be aware there are a lot of calories [in the beverages], and kids need to exercise a lot to burn it off," she said.
Sweetened beverages and naturally sweetened fruit drinks should be limited to four to six ounces a day for kids aged 1 to 6 and eight to 12 ounces for those aged 7 to 18, Wang said. In her study, the daily average consumption from 1999 to 2004 was 25 ounces.
"Make health eating and activity habits a priority for the family," Diekman stressed.
To learn more about healthy eating habits, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
SOURCES: Y. Claire Wang, M.D., Sc.D., assistant professor, health policy and management, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York City; Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., professor, public health, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis; Connie Diekman, M.Ed., R.D., L.D., director, university nutrition, Washington University, St. Louis; June 2008, Pediatrics