Most grandparents believe it is their right to spoil their grandchildren. But a new study has suggested that overindulgence may expose children to too much sugary treats and even smoking, while also limiting time for physical activities.

A study made by researchers from the University of Glasgow has found negative effects when grandparents overindulge their young grandchildren. In particular, the child's diet, weight, and physical activity are affected. It also raises their risk of developing the smoking habit.

The researchers were looking at the role of part-time caregivers - like grandparents - in terms of risk factors.

In the study, the research team looked at 56 studies from 18 countries all related to grandparent care. They examined the parents' view of grandparents caring for, or spending time with their children, as well as behaviours that caused tension as a result of the latter's care giving.

They found that grandparents may negatively impact their grandchildren by overfeeding them with treats - usually sweet foods - and consequently reducing physical activity.

“There were also negative impacts as a result of tobacco smoke by not complying with parents’ wishes regarding second-hand smoke and role modelling negative behaviour,” according to the university release.  

Still, the researchers argued, while the exposures are there, they are unintentional.

“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,” said lead author Dr Stephanie Chambers of the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit.

Even with the findings, the researchers agree that spending time with grandparents can enhance kids’ social and emotional well-being and there is no recommendation to limit the time grandchildren spend with their grandparents. However, drawing attention to the fact can lead to the formation of healthy habits.

“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 of grandparents play in the lives of children,” said Dr Stephanie Chambers. MIMS