A new study says that grandparents are bad for kids’ health because they spoil them. But isn’t that down to us parents too?
When I was in my early teens I became convinced my nan was planning to eat me. What other reason could there have been for the incessant fattening up she subjected me to? Burgers, trifle, bags of crisps, fizzy drinks, hot dogs, ice cream – anything I wanted – and fish fingers, chips, and beans every Saturday afternoon without fail. It’s no wonder I’m doomed to forever be one of life’s fat lads. Even now, in my mid-thirties, she offers me a Magnum every time I visit, regardless of what time of day it is. So it’s no surprise that a new report says grandparents are bad for kids’ health.
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The research, conducted by University of Glasgow, looked at 56 studies from 18 countries – including the UK, US, Hungary, Norway, China, Japan, and Australia – and was done specifically to asses how grandparents’ influence can affect the long term risk of cancer in grandchildren.
The study looked at six main areas: weight, diet, physical activity, tobacco, alcohol and sun exposure
(I could have saved them the trouble by regaling them with how my grandparents would feed me up with junk food, encourage me to laze about in front the telly all day, smoke fags until they literally needed a bypass, and take me on caravan holidays to Devon with scant regard for sun cream.)
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In regards to diet and weight, the study found that kids who were regularly looked after by grandparents were more likely to be overweight and that “grandparents were characterised by parents as indulgent, misinformed and as using food as an emotional tool within their relationships with grandchildren”.
Grandparents also instilled poor dietary habits by dishing out treats, including “high sugar or fat foods, or providing too much food” (i.e. Magnums).
“Parents reported feeling frustrated and undermined, and described these practices as ‘spoiling’ grandchildren,” says the report.
Evidence for grandparents having an adverse effect on physical activity was less conclusive, with mixed outcomes overall – but some grandparents encouraged exercise by taking kids to the park or sports activities.
It’s no great surprise that the major issues with weight, diet, and poor physical activity were recorded mostly in Western countries. Passive smoking was also a problem in some cases.
Parents relying on grandparents for childcare was cited as one of the main reasons these less-than-healthy ways continued to be an influence.
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Of course, it’s a tough one. Grandparents are, well, old – or older, at least – meaning they have old school ways, can be less active, and general couldn’t give a monkey’s about new fangled ideas on what’s good for kids (the phrase “Well it never did us any harm” has been heard many times round my nan’s house.)
For some parents, not confronting grandparents is less about relying on them for childcare, and more about letting grandparents enjoy what time they get with the grandkids – and while they can.
That, of course, is where us parents must accept responsibility for whatever effect it’s having on our kids’ health. I always let my five-year-old have the Magnum when we visit my nan, because it’s a treat he wouldn’t at home. And that’s on me.
“We know that children benefit enormously from having close relationships with their grandparents right through childhood into adolescence,” Lucy Peake, chief executive of the charity Grandparents Plus, told the BBC.
“What this study shows is that the role they’re playing in children’s lives needs to be better recognised and supported.
“We’d like to see more focus on ensuring that information available to parents about children’s health reaches grandparents too.”