The research also revealed that “excessive feeding” of children has become a significant problem with grandparents. They were known to make meals from scratch with unhealthy ingredients.
Every parent knows that grandparents may spoil their kids. But now the experts have weighed in, and they warn that grandparent child care can be harmful if left unchecked.
It’s not just a case of rotten behaviour or too many sweets either. Leaving children with their grandparents can be bad for the kids’ health. This may even increase the kids’ risk of cancer if boundaries are not set.
Grandparents spoil their grandchildren so much it has become a matter of concern. This is according to a review of research into the influence of grandparents on lifestyle factors that can eventually cause cancer later in life. The findings were published in the Public Library of Science ONE, an online journal.
Grandparent child care can be harmful, but increased risks are “unintentional”
Some grandparents give kids too many sweet treats and massive amounts of fattening food. They also let them lounge around indoors with little to no physical activity, just lots of video games and watching TV.
Perhaps of greatest concern is that some grandparents are more prone to smoking around the children, exposing their young lungs to secondhand tobacco smoke.
Experts found the risks to be “unintentional,” and emphasise that the problems can be fixed with proper communication.
The review’s lead author, Dr. Stephanie Chambers from the University of Glasgow’s Public Health Sciences Unit in Scotland, said:
“While the results of this review are clear that behaviour such as exposure to smoking and regularly treating children increases cancer risks as children grow into adulthood,” Chamber said, “it is also clear from the evidence that these risks are unintentional.”
“Currently grandparents are not the focus of public health messaging targeted at parents and in light of the evidence from this study,” she added. “Perhaps this is something that needs to change given the prominent role grandparents play in the lives of children.”
Worldwide concern when grandparent child care can be harmful
The research team from Glasgow mined data from a wide array of sources from around the world that contained any information on how grandparent child care can be harmful. Based on 56 studies from across 18 countries, grandparent child care can be harmful in spite of their good intentions.
Grandparent child care may be harmful and increase cancer risk
The researchers said poor diet, excess weight, lack of physical activity, and smoking increase the risk of cancer. In addition, the factors associated with long-term cancer risk were first experienced within the family setting.
The research also revealed that “excessive feeding” of children has become a significant problem with grandparents. They were known to make meals with unhealthy ingredients. Often, sweets were used as a reward or as a sign of affection, and in quantities that were too much.
There was evidence that suggests that some grandparents believed extra weight was a sign of good health.
Grandparents who smoke are also of concern. Not only do they expose kids to second hand smoke, they become a bad influence on their grandchildren. There was no significant evidence of grandparents having a bad influence on kids when it comes to alcohol consumption, however.
Not their fault
Grandparents are not completely at fault, however, as there are a number of socio-economic factors to consider. In particular, they are the rising number of women in the workplace, childcare costs, and single parents.
This means more parents are placing their children in the care of other people. In many cases, this is their grandparents, as they are a trusted party.
Spending time with grandparents can also be healthy
One positive finding balances the negative impact on kids’ health. Grandparents tend to be supportive of children’s physical activities. They often provide children with access to the space necessary for kids to engage in active pursuits.
However, the authors of the review did point out that something’s missing in their review. None of the reviewed studies took into account the positive emotional benefits to children of grandparents spending time with them.
“From the studies we looked at, it appears that parents often find it difficult to discuss the issues of passive smoking and over-treating grandchildren,” Chambers added.
“Given that many parents now rely on grandparents for care, the mixed messages about health that children might be getting is perhaps an important discussion that needs to be had.”
Broader family picture
Professor Linda Bauld, a member of the charity Cancer Research UK who co-funded the study, said:
“Children’s health can be affected by a range of factors, and this study reinforces the importance of the broader family picture, with both smoking and obesity being the two biggest preventable causes of cancer in the UK, it’s important for the whole family to work together.”
“Children should never be exposed to second hand smoke. But it’s also important for children to maintain a healthy weight into adulthood, and in today’s busy world it’s often the wider family who have a role to play in keeping youngsters healthy. If healthy habits begin early in life, it’s much easier to continue them as an adult.”
Mums and dads, remember that communication is essential, especially with well-meaning grandparents. If your kids are left with them, and there are grandparental behaviours you are not comfortable with, tell them. They are your parents after all!