A new study says grandparents are very bad for kids’ health.

Grandparents feed kids too many biscuits and lollies. No kidding. But could the indulgent oldies actually be establishing bad lifestyle habits that will stay with their grandchildren for life – and increase their risk of cancer?

Researchers at the University of Glasgow think so.

The researchers, led by Dr Stephanie Chambers, pulled together studies from around the world, including Australia, and focused on grandparents who were providing childcare for their grandchildren. They found that grandparents have a negative impact on kids when it comes to weight, diet, physical activity and smoking.

Among their findings:

  • Some grandparents are smoking around kids, exposing them to second-hand smoke and refusing to stop when parents ask.
  • Many parents claim grandparents are indulgent and misinformed when it comes to food, loading kids up with fat and sugar, and generally overfeeding them. They feel frustrated and undermined, and think kids are being “spoiled”.
  • Grandparents often use treats to bribe children to be well-behaved. As well, an Australian study shows that grandparents give kids treats to strengthen the bond between them.
  • Some parents disapprove of grandparents’ meal rules, such as kids having to eat everything on their plate.
  • One study shows that children in informal childcare, such as those being looked after by grandparents, are more likely to be overweight than children in formal childcare.

The researchers say there can also be benefits to grandparents being part of their grandchildren’s lives, and that a recommendation to limit the interaction between them would be “misplaced”. Instead, they believe that general parenting advice and support should be broadened to include grandparents too.

Well, that’s a relief that the researchers are not recommending that contact between grandparents and grandchildren should be limited.

Listen: It takes a village, right? (Post continues after audio.)

Personally, I’m just grateful that my parents and parents-in-law have lived long enough to get to know my children. My dad is 91, and every time my daughter and son drop in to see my parents, I think how lucky I am that they have this time together. Yes, my mum brings out the chocolate biscuits like clockwork, but that’s just part of it.

Kids who are looked after by their grandparents are fortunate in so many ways. They have the same loving, devoted carer for years on end, and the carer-to-child ratio is pretty darn good. Surely that must have some major benefits for the child that can’t possibly be measured?

Obviously, the food situation is an issue for a lot of families, and smoking around kids is an absolute no-no. But the idea that grandparents need to come with a health warning? Won’t hear it. Grandparents should be cherished.