Super-Sized Stress and Super-Sized Meals

Child obesity risk and likelihood of eating fast food linked to parent stress levels

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Stress is a part of life, especially if you're a parent. But too much stress takes a toll on the health of parents — and possibly their children too.

A recent study found a link between how stressed parents felt and their child's risk of obesity or eating fast food.

The researchers found that the amount of stress parents were under was related to their child's likelihood of being overweight.

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The study, led by Elizabeth P. Parks, MD, of the Divisions of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, used data from the 2006 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey.

The survey included responses from 2,119 parents or guardians and their children, aged 3 to 17.

The researchers gathered information on both the actual stresses parents experienced as well as the amount of stress they felt like they were under.

The stressors measured in the study for parents included having a mental health diagnosis, being under financial strain, not having health insurance, being poor and being in a single-parent household.

The researchers then looked at the obesity rates among the children as well as several health behaviors, including how much fast food they ate, how many fruits and vegetables they ate and their level of physical activity.

They adjusted their calculations for other information gathered, including the children's age, race/ethnicity, gender and quality of their health as well as information on the parents' education, weight, gender and sleep quality.

The more stressors the parents reported, the more likely their child was to be obese. The increased risk was small — kids of particularly stressed parents were about 12 percent more likely to be obese — but it was large enough to not be due to chance.

Meanwhile, parents who felt like they were under a lot of stress were a little more likely to feed their children fast food (about 7 percent more likely).

However, there was no link found between parents' actual stress or perceived stress and how many fruits and vegetables their children ate or how much physical activity they got.

The results held true across socioeconomic groups, and the researchers concluded that children's health may benefit if their parents learned strategies for coping with stress.

The study was published October 22 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared not conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 23, 2012
Last Updated:
October 24, 2012