A mom’s BMI shifts are contagious—as if women needed *another* thing to worry about


The whole “monkey see, monkey do” thing can be cute when your little one is trying on your beloved matte lipstick or mimicking your moves from the boutique fitness class you stream on the daily. But while some copy-cat behavior is fun (funny, even), others can majorly impact your kiddo’s health now and in the future.

In a new study published in BMJ Open, researchers analyzed the activity levels and body mass index (BMI) of more than 4,400 Norwegian parents and their children for an 11-year period, and they found that the rise and fall of the children’s BMIs closely followed their mothers’. Meaning, when Mom lost weight, so did the kids. And when she decreased her activity level, her children’s BMIs increased. The fathers’ weight, meanwhile, didn’t correlate with their kids’.

The team thinks there’s one likely explanation for why mothers are more influential than fathers when it comes to BMI: the patriarchy, basically. As in, women are still primarily responsible for the family’s lifestyle habits, like what’s being eaten on the day-to-day and the activities on the schedule. “Parents have a major impact on their children’s health and lifestyle. Behaviors that lead to obesity are easily transferred from parent to child,” said Marit Næss, study author and doctoral candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in a press release. “Mothers whose activity levels drop as their children are growing up are linked to children with higher BMI in adolescence.”

Not exactly groundbreaking to say that a mom’s habits influence her kids, but it does serve as a reminder: Even if it doesn’t always feel like it, when you’re being a healthy influence, your loved ones will follow suit. And more importantly, the findings inadvertently shine a light on the gender gap that remains in parenting and household responsibilities. Let’s get more involved, dads! And workplaces, let’s make it easier for them to do so.

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