Grandparents may be unknowingly negatively affecting their grandchildren's health by being indulgent, says a new study.
Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study entailed a review of 56 research cases from 18 countries. The review focused on data concerning the kind of care grandparents provided as non-primary carers of their grandchildren.
Earlier works have highlighted the possible role parents have in affecting risk factors for various diseases such as cancer, but there is limited knowledge about the role part-time caregivers like grandparents have. As such, the study aimed to identify how grandparents' habits influence long-term cancer risk factors in their grandchildren.
How Grandparents Affect Their Grandchildren's Health
Based on their findings, the researchers discovered that grandparents were inadvertently adversely affecting the health of their grandchildren, particularly in the areas of diet and weight, by overfeeding, giving treats, and not promoting physical activity. Grandparents who didn't comply with parental wishes regarding smoking tobacco in the presence of their children also exposed little ones to the effects of second-hand smoke.
What the study didn't take into account, however, is the positive emotional benefit that spending time with grandparents has on children.
Regardless of how happy children may be with their grandparents, the lack of physical activity, poor diet, and exposure to second-hand smoke they get are risk factors for non-communicable diseases, especially cancer. Based on the evidence, risk factors appearing in childhood increase the likelihood of death due to cancer in adulthood.
According to Dr. Stephanie Chambers, the study's lead author, the results of their review clearly showed that grandparents have a hand in increasing cancer risks in their grandchildren. However, they also wanted to point out that the evidence further showed that the negative influence was unintentional.
"Currently grandparents are not the focus of public health messaging targeted at parents ... perhaps this is something that needs to change given the prominent role grandparents play in the lives of children," she added.
Changing Family Dynamics And Child Health
With more women entering the workforce, higher childcare costs, and a rise in lone parenting, more and more grandparents are finding themselves with an increased presence in their grandchildren's lives. However, many grandparents are not adhering to protocols set by parents for their children, which can cause tension within families. Unfortunately, a lot of parents are having trouble starting conversations with grandparents to discuss issues.
Given how parents rely on grandparents for childcare, the researchers noted it is necessary to address mixed messages right away for the benefit of the children.