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Health-related parenting behaviours across early childhood: Evidence from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal survey

This study used data from four time points for the Growing Up in New Zealand cohort of around 5800 children (at the antenatal wave, and when the children were 9-months, 2-years, and 4.5-years old) to shed light on the impact of health-related parenting behaviours (ie, food/smoking/screen time and physical activity) on their children’s early health.

Findings and future considerations

The study found that most parents provided ‘healthful’ behavioural environments (eg, higher consumption of vegetables and fruit) for their children. As a child grew older, however, it became harder to exert healthful parenting behaviours. For example, at age 9-months, 76% of children were in the more ‘healthful’ parenting behaviour profile, but dropped to 40% of children in that profile when they were 2-years of age.

Children at the greatest risk of being exposed to less ‘healthful’ parental behaviours were those with mothers with lower educational attainment, tamariki Māori, Pacifica, and Asian children.

The researchers (from Victoria University of Wellington and University of Waikato) say that promoting healthy behaviours has the most impact in the very early stages (ie the antenatal period and 9 months stages), however health promotion by itself seems to elicit diminishing returns as children grow older.

The researchers say their results suggest larger contextual and structural factors are important for understanding persistent inequities in children’s health and that broader factors such as combating systemic racism, raising household incomes, and ensuring that high-deprivation communities have the additional resources to thrive, may serve to promote more healthful behaviours and reduce inequalities over childhood.

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