Are we killing our grandchildren with kindness?

Rowan Mantell with her granddaughter Charlotte. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Rowan Mantell with her granddaughter Charlotte. Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

As scientists suggest grandparents could be killing their grandchildren with kindness, Norfolk people say give grandparents a break

Great, so now I'm a health hazard.

One day a week, while my teacher daughter inflicts maths upon the innocent I play with 19-month-old Charlotte and try to keep up with her encyclopediac knowledge of Disney princesses. Last week she called me Princess Grandma. Now it turns out I could be Poisoner Grandma.

Apparently grandparents are spoiling their grandchildren with sweet treats and big helpings of fattening food, exposing their young lungs to tobacco smoke and increasing their risk of obesity and cancer

And it's not even the kind of study which has stopped five people in the street asked them to tick the emoji which best describes their grandparenting on a scale from smiley face to heap of manure.

No, the University of Glasgow's public health sciences unit has analysed data from 56 studies, across 18 countries, which included information about the influence of grandparents on their grandchildren.

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And overall, grandparents were found to have an adverse effect. We mean well, apparently, but do bad things, like overfeeding them, rewarding good behaviour with sweets and not giving them enough exercise.

Exposing young children to tobacco smoke while serving up doughnuts and chips with a side order of werthers originals for breakfast is not recommended. Who knew?

Well, most actual grandparents knew.

The cartoon ones, who wear pinnies and knit socks (grannies), or smoke pipes and carve rocking chairs (gramps), and shamble greyly around wondering where they left their specs, common sense and enormous and enormously spoilt grandkids, don't actually exist.

The real grandparents are busy taking their tiny grandchildren on outings to the park or the library, taking older grandchildren to school, after-school activities, sports clubs…

Okay, little Charlotte may now think Whitlingham, near Norwich, is a double-barrelled name, short for Whitlingham-Cake, because our weekly wander around the lake includes a visit to the café. And okay, it is a battle to get my half of that cake before she's scoffed it. But it's washed down with water, and she will have already had a lunch of milk, fish fingers, peas and strawberries.

And another thing, scientists. Grandparents are not parents. It's what the grand is about. We have been there, done the perfectly balanced mix of protein, vitamin, carbohydrate and stress every meal and know life, however long and healthy, is too short for a full-scale battle if a toddler temporarily forgets she likes banana.

Lead author of the research, Dr Stephanie Chambers, of the University of Glasgow's Public Health Sciences Unit, said: '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.

'From the studies we looked at, it appears that parents often find it difficult to discuss the issues of passive smoking and over-treating grandchildren. Given that many parents now rely on grandparents for care, the mixed messages about health that children might be getting is perhaps an important discussion that needs to be had.'

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, put the boot in, saying: 'Both nan and grandpa can leave themselves wide open to manipulative and increasingly savvy grandchildren in their desire to please the little darlings. They bring out the biscuits at the slightest hint of a tantrum and, as the researchers report, they are also often too protective in loco parentis. The thought of losing children when out in the park may result in the kids being under house arrest - sweeties on demand and woefully short on exercise.'

In an ideal world Charlotte and I would be sharing a carrot, not a cake, and I would not take umbrage at the results of evidence-based scientific research, co-funded by Cancer Research UK, which is only trying to make things better for children and easier for parents who rely on grandparents for childcare.

So yes, grand ground rules would be to not smoke anywhere near children, to ease off the sweets and cakes and to run around outside with them; but give us some credit, we are doting, not dotards.

East Anglian grandparents bite back:

Our Facebook followers were quick to react with comments including:

'When my grandchildren come to stay with me they still abide by their parents' rules. Neither of us smoke, they are given healthy meals. The only thing they are spoilt with is love and as far as I know love doesn't cause cancer.'

'In my experience it is normally the grandparents who will be the ones to cook them healthy meals from scratch as they have the time.

'We are way too busy with our grandchildren to eat chocolate and sweets! We play with them all day, outdoors mostly in the fresh air. We eat healthy picnics, we love them and treasure them way too much to put their little lives at risk.'

'Just how old and stupid do these 'scientists' think the average grandparent is? Most of us are fully aware of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle and we want only the best for our grandchildren.

'You'll be ok here, our gorgeous grandchildren. More likely to get hugged to death than develop cancer from this Nana and Grandpops!