Poor diet, excess weight, smoking and lack of physical activity are all known to increase the risk of cancer, said the researchers. Grandparents overall were found to have an adverse effect on the health of the children despite meaning well.
The Glasgow team analysed data from 56 studies from 18 countries that included information about the influence of grandparents on their grandchildren. The research found "excessive feeding" of children was a significant grandparent problem, as was providing meals made from unhealthy ingredients.
Previous research has studied 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. There is evidence to suggest that exposure to risk factors in childhood increases an individual's likelihood of cancer morbidity or mortality in adulthood, and factors associated with children's long term cancer risk are first experienced within the family setting.
None of the reviewed studies took into account the positive emotional benefit of children spending time with their grandparents, the authors said.
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Dr Chambers said: "From the studies we looked at, it appears that parents often find it hard to discuss the issues of passive smoking and over-treating grandchildren".
Changes in social conditions, such as more women in the workforce, childcare costs, and an increase in lone parenting, have led to an increased focus on the role of grandparents' in grandchildren's lives. "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".
"Finding a doting grandparent who is confident enough to follow rules laid down by mum and dad to the letter is frequently a rarity", he said.
"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".
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