Dr. Leonard H. Epstein, an expert on childhood obesity at the University at Buffalo, said parents are very important in terms of arranging an environment and setting a model for healthy or unhealthy behavior.
"Parents bring foods into the house. They control how much time a child can watch TV. They control what kinds of social activities are paired with foods," Epstein told News In Health, a newsletter from the National Institutes of Health.
Epstein's team assigned obese children ages 8-12 to different types of weight loss programs. All were taught about healthy diet, behaviors and exercise.
For some groups, positive feedback and encouragement for weight loss and behavior changes were given only to the child. Other groups focused on both the child and an obese parent.
Comparison groups received little feedback.
Epstein said when obese parents and children worked together, both were more successful at losing weight and making healthy changes.
"Even after 10 years, when these kids ages 18-22, the ones who had the parent working with them had lost more weight and maintained more weight loss than the ones treated by themselves, and more than the comparison groups," Epstein said.