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Centre de recherche
Wednesday, October 31 2018
Press release

Not my child!

Parents' self-deluding optimism puts children's health at risk

MONTREAL, October 31, 2018 – Dr. Olivier Drouin, a researcher and pediatrician at CHU Sainte-Justine, and the international research team of which he is a member, have concluded in a new study that parents are overly optimistic about their child's risk of becoming overweight or starting smoking at an early age, even if they are exposed to one or more risk factors. The results of this study are presented in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

"Overall, more than 80% of parents believe their child is at lower than average risk of smoking or excessive weight gain. If parents don't believe their child is at risk, and therefore that the advice does not apply to their situation, they will have little interest in changing," says Dr. Drouin, first author of the study. This would partly explain why medical advice on healthy lifestyles generally does not work.

The research team surveyed 648 parents during their routine appointments with the pediatrician. They were asked about their children's levels of smoking exposure, consumption of sugary drinks, physical activity and screen time. Then they were asked to assess the risk of their children becoming smokers before the age of 18 or gaining excessive weight by the next year.

Statistics indicate that parents must remain vigilant. Currently, 16% of the Canadian population still smokes tobacco and 90% of smokers start before the age of 18. At the same time, 35% of Quebec children are overweight, and the prevalence of obesity among young Canadians has increased from 3% to 9% in the past 20 years. Smoking and overweight are among the leading causes of mortality, morbidity and healthcare costs in Canada.

"Doctors and health professionals should enquire about parents’ perception of risk and use this information as a starting point in a conversation about risk factors so that prevention efforts are useful," Dr. Drouin concludes. The research team is continuing its studies to examine whether parental optimism is a factor in other conditions. They also want to test whether "correcting" this exaggerated optimism can lead to more effective counselling about healthy lifestyles.

About the study

The article titled "Parental optimism about children’s risk of future tobacco use and excessive weight gain" was published in the journal Academic Pediatrics in September 2018. The first author is Olivier Drouin, MDCM, MSc, MPH, researcher and general pediatrician at CHU Sainte-Justine, and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Université de Montréal. This study was funded by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé, the Academic Pediatrics Association and Julius B. Richmond Center of Excellence of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Authors: Olivier Drouin, MDCM, MSc, MPH, Jonathan P. Winickoff, MD, MPH, Anne N. Thorndike, MD, MPH

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About the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center

The Research Center is part of the CHU Sainte-Justine, which is the largest mother-child center in Canada and second pediatric center in North America. The Research Center is a leading mother-child research institution affiliated with Université de Montréal. Focused on the discovery of innovative prevention methods, less intrusive and faster treatments and promising avenues for personalized medicine, it brings together more than 200 researchers, including more than 90 clinical researchers, as well as more than 500 graduate and post-doctoral students. More on research.chusj.org

CHU Sainte-Justine

Maude Hoffmann
Communications, CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center

Media resource person:

Patsy Coulanges
CHU Sainte-Justine
Office: 514-345-4931, ext. 4354


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Updated on 10/31/2018
Created on 10/31/2018
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