A lack of physical exercise and excess sugar in children’s diets can lead to long-term health issues
New research out yesterday found the “kindly” behaviour of many grandparents has a bad effect on children’s health and even increases the risk of diseases such as cancer.
Public health experts from the University of Glasgow reviewed 56 studies covering 18 countries which looked at the care provided by grandparents who are not the primary carers of their grandchildren.
They said that up till now research has focused on parents’ roles in contributing towards risk factors for diseases such as cancer.
But there has been little study into the the role of other part-time caregivers, such as grandparents.
Research shows that exposure to risk factors in childhood increases the risk of cancer later in life
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
The aim of this review was to identify any potential influence grandparents’ habits may have on their grandchildren’s long-term cancer risk factors.
It found that, overall, grandparents were inadvertently having an adverse impact on their grandchildren’s health, especially in the areas of weight and diet – through “treating”, overfeeding, and lack of physical activity.
There were also negative impacts from grandparents smoking which led to exposure from second-hand smoke and copycat behaviour with cigarettes.
However the studies did not take into account the positive emotional benefit of children spending time with their grandparents.
Smoking, diet and a lack of physical activity, along with excess weight, have been identified as risk factors for disease, particularly cancer.
There is evidence to suggest that exposure to risk factors in childhood increases an individual’s likelihood of death from cancer.
Furthermore, children’s long term cancer risk is first experienced within the family setting.
Study leader Dr Stephanie Chambers said: “While the results of this review show that behaviour such as exposure to smoking and regularly giving children treats increases cancer risks as children grow into adulthood, it is also clear these risks are unintentional.
Smoking and obesity are the two biggest preventable causes of cancer in the UK
“Currently, grandparents are not the focus of public health messaging targeted at parents and in light of the evidence from this study, perhaps this is something that needs to change given the prominent role grandparents play in the lives of children.“
Social changes such as more women in work, childcare costs and marriage break-ups have led to an increase in grandparents becoming part-time carers.
The majority of studies included in this review looked at these issues from a parent’s point of view, and also found that the types of grandparent behaviour described by the parents also caused tension in families.
Dr Chambers said: “It appears that parents often find it difficult to discuss the issues of passive smoking and over-treating grandchildren.
“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.”
Professor Linda Bauld, of Cancer Research UK, said: “Children’s health can be affected by 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.”
The findings are published in the science journal PLOS ONE.