Study suggests that children in homes with stressed parents are more likely to gain weight. Photo courtesy of The Guardian

Study suggests that children in homes with stressed parents are more likely to gain weight. Photo courtesy of The Guardian

A new study found that parent stress is linked to heightened weight gain in children. The causes of this aren’t very clear yet, however scientists advise interventions should focus on how to support families in challenging conditions.

Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto studied data collected during the Children’s Health Study, one of the largest and most comprehensive investigations into the long-term effects of air pollution on the respiratory health of children. Based on the data, the researchers calculated the children’s BMI (body mass index), while parents where asked to fill a questionnaire that measured their perceived psychological stress.

It was found that children whose parents are stressed  have a Body Mass Index (BMI) about 2 percent higher than children whose parents have low levels of stress, and also gain weight at a 7 percent higher rate than other children. That might now seem like much, but it is a significant value that suggests there’s a link between parent stress and children predisposition for weight gain. Considering childhood is maybe the most important stage in a person’s life – a time where most of our habits are formed, becoming extremely difficult to get rid off in adulthood – findings such as these should not go unnoticed.

Passing on the pain

The causes aren’t very clear. The researchers suggest, however, that stress is passed on the children, encouraging them to eat more and exercise less. There’s also the idea that stressed parents are less careful and mindful of what kind of food they prepare at home and may feed their children unhealthier food.

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Ketan Shankardass, lead author of the paper published in the journal Pediatric Obesity , suggests that rather than focusing on getting parents to change their behavior, interventions should focus on how to support families in challenging conditions. Support could come in the form of making sure families have a reliable supply of healthy food, an opportunity to live in a nice neighborhood, and other financial or service resources to help cope with stress.

A note of worth is that half of the participants in the study were Hispanic, and curiously enough Hispanic children were more vulnerable to gain weight as a result of their parents’ stress than other kids. The findings support previous research that suggests Hispanic children may be more likely to experience hypherphasia — excessive hunger or increased appetite — and a sedentary lifestyle

 

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