Enhancing Family Health by Julianne McGill

My parents recently moved to Alabama from California. I am so excited to have them nearby. It offers more opportunities to spend time together and it is really amazing having support so close. Luckily, I am very close with both of my parents and have a positive relationship with both of them. As they start to age, I start to worry about their health. My dad has high blood pressure, but he does a great job staying busy with his horses and going to the gym to stay healthy. My mom, however, has type 2 diabetes and does not find joy in working out. She loves to craft, read, or bake. So, I have been trying to support my mom’s physical health by keeping her active. We have discussed many ideas, but most recently she has voiced interest in doing master’s swimming. I think she would do great! Well, I just learned from a recent study, that what I’m doing is using “social control” to support healthy behaviors in my mom.

The term “social control” means the direct attempts to monitor or regulate another’s health behaviors. Further, social control causes individuals to adopt behaviors that influence health. Great, right? For the most part, yes.

Current research suggests that parent-child relationships can promote heathy diets and exercise, but parenthood has been found to be related with less healthy diet and exercise behaviors. So, why the discrepancy? Well, that is what a group of researchers wanted to discover in a qualitative study that assessed the relationship between diet and exercise in parenthood.

The researchers found that parenthood involves both promoting and compromising social control practices. Older children focused on supporting their parents’ diet and exercise plans. Unfortunately, younger children interfered with parents’ health practices, because parents practice self-sacrifice and have more restrictive social support.

As I thought about this research study I thought about those in the “sandwich generation” who are both active children and parents. What can these individuals do to take care of their diet and exercise?

  • Engage in self-care: If you have flown before you know that in the safety speech before takeoff flight attendants show you how to use the oxygen mask in case of emergency. They remind you to put yours on first before you help other people. Why? Because you can’t help others to the best of your ability if you are not take care of first. So, though parenthood involves self-sacrificing behaviors, remember to care for yourself too. Prepare healthy meals and freeze in advance. Exercise while doing chores. Carve out special “you time.”

  • Work as a team: Your family is a group of individuals with a common goal- to be successful, happy, and healthy people. You are a team that works together for the greater good! Make dinners together. For example, one person can slice, while another can sauté. Go on walks together, or go as a family to the pool in the summertime. Invite your parents to be involved in the process too. Have them bring something or have them take the lead on the meal.
  • Connect your parents: Help them get involved in new activities that can keep them be busy and healthy. Introduce them to new, yummy, healthy foods that they can integrate at home. A water aerobics or introduction to cooking classes are places they can meet new people and participate in healthy behaviors.


For more information on this study:

Reczek, C., Thomeer, M. B., Lodge, A. C., Umberson, D., & Underhill, M. (2014). Diet and exercise in parenthood: A social control perspective. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76, 1047-1062.

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