When kids leave the nest, parents can still influence health
Our parents still influence our behavior, even when we’re out of the nest, according to a recent Journal of Adolescent Health study from Penn State University.
When researchers examined the effects of parent-college student communication on students eating and physical activity, they found that college students exercise more and eat more fruits and veggies on the days when they communicate more with their parents.
Researchers for the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, recruited 746 first-year students at a large U.S. university to complete 14 daily surveys along with a baseline survey. The surveys covered questions including how much time students spent talking to, e-mailing or text messaging their parents. The surveys also included questions about how often and for how long students worked out or played sports and how many times they ate fruits or vegetables.
Survey results revealed that on days when students communicated with their parents for 30 minutes or more, they were 14 percent more likely to eat fruits and veggies and 50 percent more likely to participate in 30 minutes or more of physical activity.
“Only a third of college students consume a diet that is consistent with national recommendations,” said Meg Small, an author on the study in a statement.
“In addition, college students’ physical activity levels decline from the first semester to their seventh semester. Our research suggests that parents may play an important role in the influencing their adolescents to establish behavioral patterns that improve their long-term health and chronic disease risk,” said Small, a research associate in Penn State’s Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development in University Park, Pa.
According to Small, the researchers did not document the content of the conversations between students and their parents; therefore, they do not know why the conversations had such positive effects on student behaviors.
“It is likely that communication with parents has both direct and indirect effects on college students’ eating and physical activity behaviors,” said Small. “Parents may directly remind students to eat a variety of healthy foods and engage in physical activity. Indirectly, communication with parents may remind students someone cares about their health and well-being, and that may motivate them to take better care of themselves.”
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