Just several years of tyranny brought Roman Emperor Caligula — a self-proclaimed god — to death at the hands of his own palace guards. Among crimes against the people, the emperor was known for incest and debauchery, extreme cruelty, and raising taxes. And in an extreme form of nepotism, he even promoted his horse to the Roman Senate. But with a single sharp blade, no longer would he rule Rome with an iron fist.

Though most American parents need not fear parenticide, new scientific evidence shows the fallacy of the authoritarian style, often worsened by a genuine lack of love and affection. Children raised in such homes are dramatically more likely to develop obesity than others, according to McGill University researchers who presented their findings this week at a meeting of the American Heart Association.

In fact, children ages 2 to 5 are 30 percent more likely to develop obesity, whereas those 6 to 11 years of age are 37 percent more likely to be clinically obese.

"Parents should at least be aware of their parenting style," epidemiologist Lisa Kakinami said in a statement. "If you're treating your child with a balance of affection and limits — these are the kids who are least likely to be obese."

The McGill researchers analyzed data from more than 37,000 kids in a group nationally representative of Canada, which is predominantly white but includes immigrants from around the globe. In considering the issue, Kakinami and her colleagues eschewed study of families with a more permissive, laissez-faire style of parenting for a truer comparison between authoritative and authoritarian styles, the first of which involves not spoiling children but employing “reasonable discussion” to correct behavioral problems.

Kakinami said the new findings suggest government policymakers may wish to target such families with improved health messages. Interestingly, they also found that greater household incomes failed to blunt the unhealthy effects of stricter, loveless parenting.