Every parent has their own sense of what is best for raising their child. But a new study, presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014 meeting, suggests that kids whose parents are strict but not emotionally receptive are more likely to be obese, compared with kids whose parents set boundaries but are affectionate.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), over one third of children in the US are overweight or obese. Researchers from the latest study say exploring factors at home that may contribute to this public health issue could potentially lead to better interventions.

“Parents should at least be aware of their parenting style,” says Lisa Kakinami, PhD, study author from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. “If you’re treating your child with a balance of affection and limits – these are the kids who are least likely to be obese.”

The research team followed a nationally representative group of Canadian children up to the age of 11 years old. In total, there were 37,577 children who were part of the study.

The team identified four styles of parenting, based on previous parenting theories:

  1. Authoritative: parents are demanding but responsive to child’s emotions/issues
  2. Authoritarian: parents are demanding but not responsive
  3. Permissive: parents are responsive but not demanding
  4. Negligent: parents are neither demanding nor responsive.

While the most problematic parenting styles were authoritarian and negligent, the researchers compared kids whose parents were affectionate, had discussions about behavior with their child and who set healthy boundaries (authoritative) with kids whose parents were strict but who did not have much dialogue or show affection (authoritarian).

After comparing parents’ answers to a cross-sectional survey, the researchers then categorized the parenting styles and studied them in light of children’s body mass index (BMI) percentile.

Results showed that kids whose parents were authoritarian had a 30% higher likelihood of being obese in kids between 2 and 5 years old, while kids between 6 and 11 years old had a 37% higher chance. This is compared with children whose parents were authoritative.

Another finding from the study showed that poverty was also associated with childhood obesity, but the researchers say parenting style affected obesity regardless of socioeconomic status.

Dr. Stephen R. Daniels, AHA spokesperson from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, says the study has some important messages for parents:

It focuses on different styles of parenting and it makes it clear that some styles are better than others in terms of helping their children avoid becoming overweight and obese.”

Though the study took place in Canada, Dr. Daniels says he believes the findings will apply to individuals in the US.

He adds that the study gives clinicians something to consider in terms of how they could help parents change their parenting style or, for new parents, to teach them how to adopt a parenting style that is best for the child.

“Ignoring bad behavior but rewarding good behavior is the best way to think about this,” he adds. “Punishing bad behavior and ignoring good behavior doesn’t work from a psychological standpoint.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study that suggested watching television, using computers and playing video games is linked to poorer well-being for children.