Childhood Obesity Influenced By Parental Stress
October 23, 2012

Stressed Out Parents Can Affect Their Kids Health

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers at Children´s Hospital of Philadelphia recently discovered that increased parental stress is related to higher rates of childhood obesity and fast food consumption, along with lower rates of physical activity.

In particular, the study found that, for parents who are more stressed out, their children consume fast food more often than the kids of parents who are less stressed out.

"Stress in parents may be an important risk factor for child obesity and related behaviors," explained the study´s lead researcher Dr. Elizabeth Prout-Parks, a physician nutrition specialist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in a prepared statement. "The severity and number of stressors are important."

Previous studies have hinted at the connection between parental stress and childhood obesity. With the current study, the researchers looked at a more diverse population in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic status. They looked at self-reported data from 2,119 caregivers and parents who were part of telephone surveys conducted in Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs; these surveys were part of the 2006 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey/Community Health Database. The researchers analyzed factors like adult levels of education, age, body mass index, gender, health quality, parental stressors, parent-perceived stress, race and sleep quality. These issues were looked at in terms of the influence on childhood obesity, fast food consumption, physical activity as well as fruit and vegetable consumption.

In the study, the scientists discovered that parental stressors that tend to impact child obesity include weak physical and mental health, financial difficulties and households that are managed by one parent rather than two. For single-parent households, they had the strongest correlation with child obesity. On the other hand, financial difficulties were the leading cause for low physical activity. The study conducted by The Children´s Hospital of Philadelphia was the first to discover a relationship between parent-perceived stress and the increased fast food consumption of children.

The alarming rates of fast food consumption are a concern as it is high in fat and sugar, which can heighten the risk for child for obesity. Parents who have higher levels of stress may buy fast food more often for their children in order to save time. It is also possible that parental stress may lead to less supervision of children, which could in turn cause the child to make faulty choices in terms of physical activity and fast food consumption. The scientists recommended that there be an increased number of interventions to decrease parental stress and to train individuals on how to cope with stress.

"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," the authors wrote in the article.

The researchers concluded that there needs to be further research done on family behaviors and community factors as well the effect that these factors have on childhood obesity.

"Clinical care, research and other programs might reduce levels of childhood obesity by developing supportive measures to reduce stressors on parents," commented Prout-Parks, whose study appears in the November issue of Pediatrics. "Teaching alternative coping strategies to parents might also help them to reduce their perceived stress."