Maternal Stress May Affect Childhood Obesity

September 2, 2008

More than children who live in food insecure low-income households, younger children whose mothers are under stress are at greater risk for obesity, according to research published in the September issue of Pediatrics.

TUESDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- More than children who live in food insecure low-income households, younger children whose mothers are under stress are at greater risk for obesity, according to research published in the September issue of Pediatrics.

Craig Gundersen, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois in Urbana, Ill., and colleagues conducted a study of 841 children aged 3 to 17 years and their mothers from households with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line, using data from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

For overweight children of any age, there was no association with either food insecurity or maternal stressors, but among those aged 3 to 10 years there was a significant link between overweight and the interaction between food insecurity and maternal stress, the investigators found. The child's probability of being overweight or obese was higher in children with increased maternal stressors, but the same results did not emerge among 11- to 17-year-olds.

"Those who create policies that address childhood obesity could consider the benefits to low-income children's well-being resulting from reducing their mothers' stressors. Because most children in the United States are food secure, these policies could have a profound impact on childhood overweight," the authors write. "The potential benefits to be generated as a result of reducing childhood overweight and obesity should be considered as programs and policies are developed and modified in an effort to help low-income families meet their physical, financial and familial needs."

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