Stressed parent? New research shows your children may be twice as likely to have obesity

November 4, 2015

Science Daily/Obesity Society

Prior research has shown that stress is associated with obesity in adults, and now for the first time, research suggests Latino parents who feel high levels of stress are twice as likely to have children with obesity as well. Researchers examined data from the Study of Latino Youth (SOL Youth) to determine the relationship between parental stress and child weight status in the Latino population.


"Obesity and chronic stress were both prevalent among this Latino population, with more than one-quarter (28%) of children ages 8-16 with obesity, and nearly one-third (29%) of their parents reporting high levels of stress," said Dr. Isasi. "This study is among the first of its kind to show that parental stress is a risk factor for childhood obesity among Latinos, and adds to the understanding of family influences on child weight status."


In this study, Dr. Isasi and colleagues examined data on weight and stress from children and their parents from the SOL Youth study, an ancillary study to HCHC/SOL, a large community-based cohort study of Latino individuals living in the Bronx (New York City), Chicago, Miami and San Diego. The researchers followed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to define child weight status, and assessed parental stress using the Chronic Stress Burden Scale, an eight-item measure of ongoing stressors in important life domains. Stress factors included having difficulties at work or difficulties in a relationship, among others. The researchers found that prevalence of obesity in the child increased with the number of parental stress factors, from 20% among parents who experienced no stress to 34% among parents with three or more stress factors. After adjusting the data for age, sex, place of birth and location, researchers found that parents who experienced three or more chronic stressors were twice as likely to have children with obesity than parents who experienced no stress.


"This research should encourage clinicians and healthcare practitioners to consider high stress levels as a warning sign for developing obesity not only in the adult patient, but also in the patient's entire family," said Margarita Teran-Garcia, MD, PhD, FTOS, At-Large Mexico Council member for The Obesity Society. "Although the study is cross-sectional, it suggests that special attention should be paid to adult patients who report experiencing high stress levels in this population, and providers are encouraged to consider behavioral counseling as one measure for obesity prevention and treatments."


Future research is needed to examine the causes and possible preventive strategies to address the parental stress and childhood obesity associations. Additionally, future research should explore these relationships in other populations.


To help providers integrate obesity treatment in their practices, The Obesity Society offers free tools as part of the Treat Obesity Seriously campaign, including a BMI pad, an office poster and a BMI-measurement wheel. Clinicians can sign up to receive these materials online.


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