Image: CC/Jef Poskanzer
Key study points:
1. The number of stressors a parent endorsed was significantly associated with child obesity.
2. Raising a child in a single-parent household was more strongly correlated with child obesity than any other targeted parental stressor.
3. At-risk minority populations were found to have significantly higher rates of child obesity, fast food consumption, and perceived parental stress.
Primer: Obesity places children at increased risk for bone and joint issues, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and significant psychosocial stress. In investigating potential contributors to the childhood obesity epidemic, the connections between a child’s environment and their underlying genetic composition have been thoroughly explored. However, the association between psychosocial factors and obesity risk is not as clear. While it has been noted that parents of obese children tend to report increased stress when compared to parents of normal-weight individuals, it is not yet clear whether parental stress is a risk factor for increased childhood obesity, or if having an obese child is responsible for increased parental anxiety. As parental influence often shapes childhood behaviors and attitudes, additional stress likely negatively impacts parents’ ability to encourage healthy behaviors. The current study aimed to further explore the connection between parental stress and child obesity.
1. Parenting stress impacts obesity-specific health-related quality of life in a pediatric obesity treatment-seeking sample [Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics]
This [cross-sectional] study collected self-reports from 2,119 caregivers of children between the ages of 3 and 17, regarding the guardian’s number of stressors, their perceived level of stress, and their child’s obesity status according to body mass index (BMI) percentile, along with food intake and physical activity. Statistical analyses were completed without considering covariates and then reanalyzed to control for the child’s age, gender, race/ethnicity, and overall health, along with the parent’s gender, level of education, BMI, and sleep quality.
Of the children included in the study, 25% were considered obese. The average number of parental stressors was 1.4 + 1.5 with a perceived stress rating of 5.8 + 2.8 on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (“no stress”) to 10 (“an extreme amount of stress”). Regardless of whether or not the analysis controlled for covariates, the number of parental stressors was significantly associated with child obesity. Black or Hispanic child race/ethnicity, lower parental education, higher parental body mass index, and poor quality pediatric healthcare were all associated with higher rates of childhood obesity. With respect to fast food consumption, older children, those of black or Hispanic race/ethnicity, those with parents with a high school education or less, and children of parents with reportedly higher perceived stress consumed more fast food. In post-hoc analyses, the stress associated with single-parent households was most strongly associated with child obesity (p = .007). Perceived parental stress was associated with obesity when not adjusted for the influence of covariates.
In sum: The current study identifies an association between perceived parental stress and number of stressors with child obesity within a racially and socioeconomically heterogenous study population. In addition, the study highlights the link between parental stress and child fast-food consumption. While the data from this study were all self-reported and there was only one measure for perceived stress, the large and diverse sample population strengthens these findings. The results highlight the potential value of increasing services that target parental stress reduction, particularly among parents who are black, Hispanic, or have a high school education or less. Teaching parents how to effectively reduce or manage current stressors might allow them to better focus on healthy food choices for their children.
By [LHC] and [DB]
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