Teen Obesity Tied to Mom

Children need a positive emotional maternal relationship to fight obesity

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

(RxWiki News) Toddlers who have poor emotional relationships with their mothers are more likely to become obese during their adolescent years. The lower the relationship quality, the higher the obesity risk appears to be.

About a quarter of toddlers with the lowest quality relationships with their mothers became obese as teenagers as compared to 13 percent who had strong relationships with their mom during their early years.

"Bond with your child during their early years."

Sarah Anderson, assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, said that childhood obesity may be influenced by interventions that attempt to improve emotional bonds between mothers and their children instead of focusing on children's food intake and physical activity.

During the study researchers analyzed data from 977 participants born in 1991 as part of the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a project of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Trained observers assessed child attachment security and maternal sensitivity by documenting interactions between mothers and their children when the toddlers were 15, 24 and 36 months old. Maternal-child relationships were then scored based on the relationship quality.

Body mass index was calculated when the children were about 15 years old. About 25 percent of children were classified as having a poor quality relationship with their mother as a toddler.

Of that group, 26 percent of the toddlers were found to be obese during adolescence.

Investigators said the finding means that children who have poor quality relationships with their mothers as toddlers are two a half times more likely to be obese as teenagers than kids who had the best relationships with their moms.

"Sensitive parenting increases the likelihood that a child will have a secure pattern of attachment and develop a healthy response to stress," Anderson said.

"A well-regulated stress response could in turn influence how well children sleep and whether they eat in response to emotional distress – just two factors that affect the likelihood for obesity."

The study is published in journal Pediatrics.

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Review Date: 
December 30, 2011
Last Updated:
January 2, 2012