Grandparents could increase children’s risk of cancer, scientists warn

Keeping up with the grandchildren (McCarthy & Stone)

Keeping up with the grandchildren (McCarthy & Stone) - Credit: Archant

Scientists have warned that indulgent grandparents could be a health hazard for children - and could even increase their risk of cancer.

They spoil their grandchildren with sweet “treats” and big helpings of fattening food, and expose them to second hand tobacco smoke, it is alleged.

The claims are based on a review of research into the influence grandparents have on lifestyle factors that can sow the seeds of cancer in later life.

Lead author Dr Stephanie Chambers, the University of Glasgow’s Public Health Sciences Unit, said: “While the results of this review are clear that behaviour such as exposure to smoking and regularly treating children increases cancer risks as children grow into adulthood, it is also clear from the evidence that these risks are unintentional.

“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.”


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Previous research has looked at the way parents can affect their children’s susceptibility to cancer and other diseases, but less attention has been paid to the role of part-time carers such as grandparents, said the scientists.

The Glasgow team analysed data from 56 studies from 18 countries that included information about the influence of grandparents on their grandchildren.

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Overall, grandparents were found to have an adverse effect - despite meaning well. In many cases, such as rewarding good behaviour with sweets, they were putting the health of their grandchildren at risk with kindness.

Smoking, poor diet, excess weight and lack of physical activity were all known to increase the risk of cancer, said the researchers.

Factors associated with long-term cancer risk were first experienced within the family setting.

Professor Linda Bauld, from the charity Cancer Research UK, which co-funded the study, said: “Children’s health can be affected by range of factors, and this study reinforces the importance of the broader family picture.

“With both smoking and obesity being the two biggest preventable causes of cancer in the UK, it’s important for the whole family to work together.

“Children should never be exposed to second hand smoke. But it’s also important for children to maintain a healthy weight into adulthood, and in today’s busy world it’s 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.”

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