Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dinner with Kids

We have some hard and fast rules about dinner in our house:
  • We all eat dinner together
  • Once you leave the table, you're done. No grazing.
  • If you don't like what's for dinner after you've tried a taste, you can have bread and butter instead.
We don't have any rules about finishing everything on your plate, never use food as a reward or punishment, and, in general, try not to care about what the kids are or are not eating. I'm generally more successful at not caring than Michele. I was please to run across this today from Bryan Caplan:
Parents habitually try to influence what their kids eat. "Eat up." "Clean your plate." "No dessert until you finish your vegetables." "Soda? No, you get milk." At least in the modern U.S., parents' main goals seem to be to (a) Increase the total amount of food kids eat, and (b) Increase the healthiness of the food they do eat.

Does all this nagging actually work? You can't answer this question just by correlating parents' nagging with childrens' eating. As usual, we have to consider the possibility that the cause of the correlation is partially or entirely genetic. Maybe health-conscious parents sire health-conscious kids, and the nagging is just a lot of hot air.

What do the data say? The best paper I tracked down was John Hewitt's "The Genetics of Obesity" (1997, Behavior Genetics 27). It's got very strong results: Nature can account for all of the family resemblance in the Body Mass Index; nurture doesn't matter at all...
Or, in other words, nag your kids to eat their broccoli if it makes you feel better... but it won't make them any skinnier, and probably won't make them any healthier, either. I save my nagging for the really important stuff, like cleaning up Legos after they're done playing ("if I step on ONE MORE of those little bricks I'm THROWING THEM ALL AWAY!")

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