Greater parental stress linked to children's obesity, fast food use and reduced physical activity

October 22, 2012

Parents with a higher number of stressors in their lives are more likely to have obese children, according to a new study by pediatric researchers. Furthermore, when parents perceive themselves to be stressed, their children eat fast food more often, compared to children whose parents feel less stressed.

"Stress in parents may be an important risk factor for and related behaviors," said Elizabeth Prout-Parks, M.D., a physician nutrition specialist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who led a study published online today in the November issue of Pediatrics. "The severity and number of stressors are important."

Among the parental stressors associated with childhood obesity are poor physical and mental health, financial strain, and leading a single-parent household, said Prout-Parks. Although previous researchers had found a connection between and child obesity, the current study covered a more diverse population, both ethnically and socioeconomically, than did previous studies.

The study team suggested that interventions aimed at reducing parental stress and teaching coping skills may assist in addressing childhood obesity.

The researchers analyzed self-reported data from 2,119 parents and caregivers who participated in telephone surveys in the 2006 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey/Community , conducted in Philadelphia and neighboring suburbs. The households contained children aged 3 to 17, among whom 25 percent were obese. Among the variables included were parental stressors, parent-perceived stress, age, race, health quality and gender of children, adult levels of education, BMI, gender, sleep quality, and outcomes such as child obesity, fast-food consumption, fruit and , and physical activity.

Of the measured stressors, single-parent households had the strongest relationship with child obesity, while had the strongest relationship for a child not being physically active. Unexpectedly, neither parent stressors nor parent-perceived stress was associated with decreased fruit and vegetable consumption by their children.

However, this study was the first to find an association between parent-perceived stress and more frequent fast- by children. Fast food, often containing high quantities of fat and sugar, is an important risk factor for obesity and child health. The researchers speculated that parents experiencing stress may buy more fast food for the family, to save time or reduce the demands of meal preparation. The authors also suggest that actual and perceived parental stress may result in less supervision of children, who may then make unhealthy food and activity choices.

"Although multiple stressors can elicit a 'stressor pile-up,' causing adverse physical health in children, parent's perception of their general stress level may be more important than the actual stressors," the authors write.

Future research on child obesity should further examine other family behaviors and community factors not available in the current study, conclude the authors. In addition, "Clinical care, research and other programs might reduce levels of by developing supportive measures to reduce stressors on parents," said Prout-Parks. "Teaching alternative coping strategies to parents might also help them to reduce their perceived stress."

Explore further: How to best help your child lose weight: Lose weight yourself

More information: "Influence of Stress in Parents on Child Obesity and Related Behaviors," Pediatrics, published online Oct. 22, 2012, and in print, Nov. 2012. www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.20120895

Related Stories

How to best help your child lose weight: Lose weight yourself

March 14, 2012
A study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and The University of Minnesota indicates that a parent's weight change is a key contributor to the success of a child's weight loss in ...

Recommended for you

Is rushing your child to the ER the right response?

October 16, 2017
If a child gets a small burn from a hot pan, starts choking or swallows medication, parents may struggle to decide whether to provide first aid at home or rush them to the hospital, suggests a new national poll.

Happier mealtimes, healthier eating for kids

October 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—Parents who struggle to get their children to follow a healthy diet may want to make dinnertime a pleasant experience, new research suggests.

Children born prematurely have greater risk of cognitive difficulties later in life

October 11, 2017
Babies born preterm have a greater risk of developing cognitive, motor and behavioural difficulties and these problems persist throughout school years, finds a new study led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

Helping preemies avoid unnecessary antibiotics

October 5, 2017
(HealthDay)—Researchers say they have identified three criteria that suggest an extremely premature infant has a low risk of developing sepsis, which might allow doctors to spare these babies early exposure to antibiotics.

Got a picky eater? How 'nature and nurture' may be influencing eating behavior in young children

October 3, 2017
For most preschool-age children, picky eating is just a normal part of growing up. But for others, behaviors such as insisting on only eating their favorite food item—think chicken nuggets at every meal—or refusing to ...

Anxious moms may give clues about how anxiety develops

September 27, 2017
Moms may be notorious worriers, but babies of anxious mothers may also spend more time focusing on threats in their environment, according to a team of researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.