Healthy Ageing

Parents complicate children from ageing healthy

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
Parents play a significant role in children becoming overweight/ obese. They have a blind spot to the detriment of their child’s health and healthy ageing. Addressing that blind spot can prevent kids from becoming overweight unhealthy adults.

Over half of the Dutch adult population is overweight. The number of obese people, seriously overweight people with an increased risk of chronic  diseases, has tripled in recent years. Over 13% of Dutch children between the ages of 4 and 17 are overweight, of which over 2% are obese.

The number of overweight children is expected to increase in the coming years, and obesity is expected to become more prevalent at a younger age. Parents play a significant role but often face a blind spot to the detriment of their child’s health and healthy ageing. Addressing that blind spot can prevent children from becoming overweight unhealthy adults.

Overweight children become obese adults

An unhealthy lifestyle is the main cause of overweight and obese children. They eat unhealthy and are not active enough. Only 2% of overweight children have an underlying medical condition that explains their excessive weight.

Children with an unhealthy lifestyle have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint problems and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, being  overweight can lead to psychosocial problems such as being bullied, being unable to keep up with the group, negative self-image, learning problems at school, and feelings of depression.

The longer the unhealthy lifestyle takes, the more difficult it is to change it. Changing unhealthy habits that have been ingrained for years is extremely difficult. Biologically, physiologically and hormonally disrupted body processes as a result of an  unhealthy lifestyle complicate this process. For example: For an overweight adult it is very difficult to lose weight and to maintain a healthy weight, when theyu were already overweight as a child. Fat cells that developped at a young age do not disappear. The assumption that a  hild can ‘outgrow’ the excess amount of bodyweight, as is sometimes said, is therefore not correct. Overweight children often become obese adults who suffer from many chronic health problems and therefore have an increased risk of premature death. Unhealthy living is an emergency in slow motion.

Parents’ blind spot

Healthy ageing, starts even before birth. What the mother eats and how she lives, effects the health and genes of the unborn child.

From birth, parents lay the foundation for their child’s lifestyle. After all, they are generally responsible for the food supply at home. Especially with young children, parents determine what and how much children eat, and what and how much exercise is done.

Parents set the example and the standard for lifestyle. They can be a role model for a healthy and active lifestyle, or the role model for a sedentary unhealthy lifestyle. (How especially overweight parents can become a role model). Although peers play a greater role in puberty and unhealthy habits can emerge, adolescents who have a healthy lifestyle from an early age and are encouraged to do so by their parents, are more likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle later in life.

While most parents want the best for their child and want their child to grow up to be a healthy happy adult, many parents also face a blind spot. As a result, the significant positive impact parents can potentially have on the child’s lifestyle, cannot stand out well enough. This blind spot has 3 aspects:

1. More than half of (Dutch) parents do not know why their children are overweight

These parents lack the knowledge about possible causes of overweight, about healthy eating and about what exactly is a healthy lifestyle and how they can stimulate this in their child.

2. Half of the (Dutch) parents do not recognize their child’s overweight

Parents do not see their own child as overweight. They think that it is not that bad or that the child has a healthy weight.

3. Over 87% of (Dutch) parents with an overweight child are not concerned about the weight of the child

They don’t know/ don’t recognize that excess bodyweight in children has short and long-term health risks, or they assume that the child “will out-grow it”.

Shared responsibility

Tackling the blind spot of parents can yield enormous health gains, now and in the future. However, it is too simplistic to say that parents are to blame for their child being overweight, or that merely tackling the blind spot can prevent children from getting overweight and growing up into unhealthy  adults.

After all, overweight and obesity in children and adults is determined by a multitude of factors. For example, the  environment in which we live influences our behavior: Are there sports facilities nearby or not? Is the neighborhood safe enough to play outside?  Are there many fast food restaurants in the area?

Moreover, social norms regarding  nutrition and weight have changed in recent years: We now find it quite  normal to be able to eat what we want, where we want, when we want. And what used to be a large portion of fries, is now a small one. Furthermore, we seem to find it quite normal that there are overweight children. (From fat shaming to fat glorification)

Healthy Ageing is a shared responsibility. At least in a collaboration between parents and professionals involved in the family, such as the health clinic, the school, the GP and the  sports club. These professionals can advise and coach parents in gaining and  applying knowledge about a healthy lifestyle and weight, and about the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle in the short and long term. Parents can pass this knowledge and experience to their child, so that the child can age into a healthy adult who can take responsibility for their own lifestyle.

Create your own health!©


This article is based on information from Nederlands Centrum Jeugdgezondheid;; Sarafino. E.P. (2014). Health Psychology: Biopsychosocial Interactions.