Parental Stress Leads to Childhood Obesity

If you perceive yourself to be a stressed parent, or have a higher number of stressors in your life, a new study suggests that your child is more likely to be eat fast food often and become obese than children whose parents feel less stressed.


Researchers, lead by Elizabeth Prout-Parks, M.D., a physician nutrition specialist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, analyzed data from over 2000 parents and caregivers who participated in telephone surveys in the 2006 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey/Community Health Database. Parents answered questions on various factors including parental stressors, parent-perceived stress, age, race, child health quality and gender, adult levels of education, BMI, gender, sleep quality, and outcomes such as child obesity, fast-food consumption, fruit and vegetable consumption, and physical activity. Among the households involved in the study, 25% of the children were obese.


The results were of that the parental stressors linked to obesity were poor physical and mental wellbeing, financial strain, and leading a single-parent household. Being a single parent was the most associated with childhood obesity, whereas financial strain had the strongest relationship with a child not being physically active. Interestingly, however, neither parent stressors nor parent-perceived stress led to children eating less fruits and vegetables.


Prout-Parks and the team speculated that stressed parents may buy more fast food for their children for its convenience, as it reduces the time a parent has to spend preparing food. They also suggested that if a parent is actually stressed, or sees themselves as such, they might supervise their children less to focus on their stressors, and this might lead to the child making unhealthy wellness 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’ Prout-Parks said. She concluded by suggesting that ‘Teaching alternative coping strategies to parents might also help them to reduce their perceived stress’.

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