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Poor Maternal-Child Relationship Linked To Adolescent Obesity

December 27, 2011

A new study has found that toddlers with a poor quality relationship with their mothers are more likely to be obese in their teenage years.

More than a quarter of those participants in the study who had the lowest-quality emotional relationships with their mothers were obese as teens while only 13 percent of adolescents were obese who had closer relationships with their mothers.

This lead the researchers to think that obesity prevention programs need to focus on more than just diet and exercise as a remedy to the growing problem of obesity among children. Parents and children should work to improve the mother-child bond.

According to Sarah Anderson, assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, “It is possible that childhood obesity could be influenced by interventions that try to improve the emotional bonds between mothers and children rather than focusing only on children´s food intake and activity.”

The data from the study came from 977 participants in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a project of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The participants lived in nine US states and the children were born in 1991.

During the study, observers watched and documented child attachment security and maternal security sensitivity of mothers and children at three ages, 15-, 24-, and 36-months old.

The maternal sensitivity was rated based on many aspects of the mother´s behavior, including supportiveness and respect for autonomy, signs of intrusiveness or hostility.

The child attachment security, for the 15- and 36-month old was rated by examining a child´s separation from and reunion with the mother. While at 24 months the researchers observed the children´s attachment security by monitoring mothers and children in their home.

By observing the maternal-child relationships, the researchers came up with a maternal-child relationship quality score for their statistical analysis. The system gave a number to the relationship from zero to six, with each point reflecting the child´s display of insecure attachment. A score of three or greater indicated a poor-quality emotional relationship.

According to the scores in the study 24.7 percent (241 children) had a poor-quality maternal-child relationship with a score of three or higher. Out of this group the prevalence of obesity in adolescence was 26.1 percent. The rate of obesity was lower for children with lower scores, or better maternal-child relationships, 15.5 percent, 12.1 percent and 13 percent for those who had scores of two, one and zero respectively.

Anderson and her colleagues believe the link to adolescent obesity lies in the limbic system in the brain, which controls the response to stress, the sleep/wake cycle, hunger and thirst and other metabolic processes, mostly through the regulation of hormones.

According to Anderson, “Sensitive parenting increases the likelihood that a child will have a secure pattern of attachment and develop a healthy response to stress. A well-regulated stress response could in turn influence how well children sleep and whether they eat in response to emotional distress – just two factors that affect the likelihood for obesity.”

The study is published online in the January 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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Source: RedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports



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