Grandparents can have negative impact on grandchildren's health: Study

Grandparents can have negative impact on grandchildren's health: Study

Grandmothers chat as they take care of their grandchildren on a street in Xiangfan
Grandmothers chat as they take care of their grandchildren on a street in Xiangfan, Hubei province on Jul 11, 2008. (Photo: Reuters/Stringer)

SINGAPORE: Over-indulgent grandparents may affect their grandchildren’s health and even increase their long-term cancer risks, according to a new study from the University of Glasgow.

Scientists from the university’s MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit looked at 56 studies and data taken from 18 countries. They specifically examined the effect of grandparents, who are not primary carers of their grandchildren, on the young ones.

This was a unique point for the review, which was published on Tuesday (Nov 14) in the journal PLOS ONE, as previous research focused on the role of parents affecting the risk factors for diseases such as cancer.

The review found that grandparents can have an adverse impact on their grandchildren’s health. No thanks to treating and over-feeding them, along with the lack of physical activity, the children’s weight and height can be negatively affected.

The exposure to grandparents’ second-hand smoke and negative role-modelling behaviour also counted towards the impact grandparents have on their grandchildren, according to the review.

While the researchers identified smoking, diet, a lack of physical activity and excess weight as risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as cancer, the researchers also noted that the adverse impact was unintentional.

Lead author Dr Stephanie Chambers from the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, said: “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.”

As social changes take place, such as more mothers entering the workforce, more lone parenting and increasing childcare costs, grandparents’ roles in their grandchildren’s lives have grown, noted the researchers.

Hence, it is important for parents to broach the issue of passive smoking and over-treating the grandchildren to the grandparents. “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,” said Dr Chambers.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said that it is “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.”

Source: CNA/bk