A recent study conducted by Boston University’s School of Medicine, and appearing in the June issue of Pediatrics, revealed that children of authoritarian (strict disciplinarian) parents are five times more likely to be overweight by the first grade than those reared by more authoritative (democratic) parents. True, children of overly permissive and/or neglectful parents were even more likely to be overweight, but the question remains—why would kids raised by overly strict parents tend to be more overweight than those exposed to more flexible parenting?
The study’s lead author, Dr. Kyung Rhee, provides some clarity, suggesting that authoritarian parents may inhibit children from developing their self-regulatory abilities. Children instructed to eat brussel sprouts, for instance, instead of vegetables more palatable to them, lose their sense of autonomy and personal choice, which may, in turn, affect their abilities to “listen to their bodies about how full they are,” Rhee says.
Another factor, I’d add, is that children of excessively strict parents may soothe themselves with food in an effort to comfort themselves following (or preceding) frequent disciplining. Moreover, in a system where rigidity is key, children may rebel by overeating, sneaking food as an effort toward self-expression and/or separation from the family.