In the News: Momís Stress Level Could Affect Childís Weight


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows a link between momís stress level and the weight of her children. The study looked at children in families living below the poverty line, and found that the more stress the mother experienced, the more likely her children were to be overweight.

Children in "stressed" homes where there was plenty of food were more likely to be overweight, versus homes where food was scarce. If food was plentiful, the children had a greater ability to consume comfort foods (that are typically higher in calories and fat) as a way to cope with (or escape) their feelings.

The researchers felt their findings were most relevant in households where children were between the ages of 3 and 10. Older kids can typically find other ways outside of the household to deal with these feelings, whether it is through friends, work, or other social activities. But younger children donít have those outside "outlets".

Although this study looked specifically at families below the poverty line, I think the results can apply to any income level. Eating is a typical response to stress, whether you are young or old, male or female. Young children are very perceptive when it comes to whatís going on around them. So if the parents are stressed, to some degree, so are the children. In our fast-paced society where we all have demands on our time, money, and more, what family doesnít experience some degree of stress now and then?

An estimated 17 percent of U.S. children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese and another 16 percent are overweight. I think it would be interesting to investigate this link further, to determine if finding different ways of dealing with parental stress could influence these numbers and help improve the health of our children.

What do you think? Have you personally experienced how the physical health of your children is impacted by your mental health?

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  • 35
    I am under quite a bit of stress during the school year, yet my 6 year old son is as thin as can be. He would eat chocolate all day if allowed but I still buy lots of fruit, which I tell him is nature's candy. Hopefully this will continue, but I will keep an eye out for any changes after reading this article. - 11/15/2009   9:42:11 AM
  • 34
    I think that you can also look at these results in a different way. Kids living in families below the poverty line rarely have access to healthy foods. My mom raised three children on very little money. We were definitely below the poverty line. I rarely ever had cookies, pop, or anything like that. What we did have, though, were fattier cuts of meat, regular pasta, sugary cereals, etc. We didn't necessarily eat more, but what we were eating wasn't healthy. - 12/16/2008   9:16:07 PM
  • 33
    Thank you for the post, sad but true - 11/1/2008   7:43:17 PM
    I like this entry. I think the study had good intentions. I mean, I think people need to understand that children are just as susceptible to stress, depression, anxiety, etc., and it does effect our children when we ourselves are stressed about something. I'm just curious though as to why the study involved only those living below the poverty level. I mean, stress is certainly not confined to this particular income bracket, but maybe there's more stress here due to the financial situation?? The problem with studies like this is it doesn't take into consideration the people involved's education or experience or knowledge about certain things. Admittedly, there would be no way to do that. Maybe the real problem here is that people who are living below the poverty level and/or receiving benefits such as food stamps or commodities are not being informed about healthier eating choices for them or their children. However, I did find encouragement in another study that I heard about today. The American Pediatric Association says that kids who "graze" are healthier overall. (This could be another one of those things that kids could teach us about healthier eating habits.) Doctors are encouraging parents to ease up on kids who want to snack all of the time and not eat that much during meal times. So, maybe it's not the fact that stress makes us want to eat more, it's what kinds of foods are available when this happens. - 10/29/2008   9:19:50 AM
  • 31
    As a counselor, I agree. Even if it doesn't have an immediate impact, kids are affected by mom's stress and it will reveal itself in some form. - 10/28/2008   9:48:45 PM
  • 30
    I agree with krazy kat, stress between my husband and I has not affected my children's weight. I think it would be different if they had been neglected during these times, which they were not. Meals are always together, whoever is home, and love is always abundant. - 10/19/2008   11:34:31 AM
  • 29
    This is a saddening article. I am a single mother, so balancing work, university and my daughter, along with dealing with her father on occasion, can be really stressful. My daughter loves to exercise with me, which is a positive, but I fear her eating habits are terrible -- she hates fruits (surprisingly does like veggies, though!) and prefers to eat hot dogs and french fries constantly. That seems typical of most of the kids that go to the day-care I work at (in the YMCA!) in her age bracket, so I hope that she'll grow out of it as long as I keep encouraging the good foods. - 10/16/2008   1:20:58 AM
    I am reminded by advice given by our family physician years ago when discussing how to develop healthy eating habits and attitudes toward food: be very careful never to use food as a reward or punishment. Encourage exercise as a stress reliever. How right he was! - 10/10/2008   5:46:15 PM
  • 27
    I grew up below the poverty line with an extremely stressed mom- I did not get obese until I grew up and wanted those comfort foods from my childhood. mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, donuts, cake.....bad carbs are way cheaper than good wholesome foods and they taste fun! - 10/8/2008   10:10:54 PM
    watching my 12 year old sneak food I know this is true. - 9/7/2008   7:31:41 PM
  • 25
    Coming from a stressful childhood - I can totally related to this study. Sad, but true... - 9/7/2008   3:43:18 PM
  • 24
    Food Stamps were the idea of BIG BUSINESS and not poor families who wanted to feed their children. BIG BUSINESS got the government to let them eat POP TARTS instead of giving them Beans, Rice, Cornmeal, Flour, etc. like people who were on "RELIEF" got when I was a kid. We had a big farm, and we'd go to this old couples house and she'd trade us "Commodities" that she'd gotten off the truck when it came once a month, for fresh garden produce my parents grew. We didn't need the food, but my Mom said "Oh, they are proud, so they don't want to take our produce without giving us something for it." - 9/7/2008   11:32:58 AM
  • GOAL142
    I agree with this study. Especially if the family is genetically predisposed to being overweight..... - 9/5/2008   9:42:46 AM
  • 22
    Whether a Mom's (or Dad's) stress increases obesity in our children or not, it is another good reminder that life is short. Whatever is stressing us isn't worth it. I say this as a total stressaholic reaching for the cure. Maybe we can all take another very deep breath and find more ways to reduce the anxiety we add to our lives every day. We are worth it and our children are certainly worth it! - 9/4/2008   6:46:58 PM
  • 21
    I have to agree. My son reacts to my moods when it comes to food. Fortunately, I have more "up" time than "down" time. He usually is a pretty good eater. - 9/4/2008   3:28:35 PM
  • 20
    Hi all. I think the children of low income families are more likely to be overweight because those families usually qualify for Food Stamps. With F.S., a stressed mom or dad is more likely to buy things that please them & their kids. Maybe they think by eating unhealthy (but "happy") food, this part of their lives will not add to their total stress level. Children will mimic what they see their parents do, so if you have a parent eating for comfort then the child will think that is the norm, esp if the child is not exposed to other healthier influences. - 9/4/2008   1:50:25 PM
  • 19
    Good luck all. It may be a good idea to find out how many calories a day a particular child needs and what foods and nutrients should make up those calories. I never thought I had to do that or talk to my children about that, but I was probably uninformed. - 9/4/2008   1:22:50 PM
    I'm usually stressed, but my kids are skinny as can be and usually eat healthier than me... maybe though I'm stressed, our home environment is not so much... does give one something to consider though... - 9/4/2008   12:54:19 PM
  • 17
    I think that this is true as far as my household is concerned. I have noticed and now I am even more aware after reading this article that my 7 year old does find comfort in food. I have been working on having healthier snacks at home for my boys. But this does spin a new light on things. - 9/4/2008   10:44:00 AM
  • 16
    I agree that when there is stress and lots of food, you can turn to food as a remedy. I think that that applies to all ages, not to just the younger folks. Unfortunately, if it occurs when you're young it sets up life long bad habits which are hard to break. I think that if the parents use food as a remedy too, it sets a very poor example and compounds the problem. - 9/4/2008   10:42:05 AM
  • 15
    I grew up in a household which was very stressful as a child. I learned to overeat to stuff my feelings down. I also learned to eat junk food early b/c my mom was depressed and would not cook many times. I learned to sneak eat as a child. I did not feel emotionally safe as a child. I am not blaming any one, but these are the facts. I also learned to do the opposite in my family. I married a man who was very supportive. My mom married 3x kept choosing losers. - 9/4/2008   10:13:02 AM
  • 14
    It seems quite plausible, but I think we should remember that stress does a lot of damage, and focusing only on the weight gain isn't helpful. The word "obese" causes people to go up in arms so often, and is totally overused. - 9/4/2008   8:01:23 AM
  • 13
    I don't find this surprising at all. Stress is passed on in a family, especially from the mother (who on average spends more time with the children) to the children. It doesn't have to be abuse or lack of self-control on part of the parents: children will feel that there are problems and if nothing else that reduces their feeling of security.

    Also, a mother who's already stressed out is less likely to have the time to encourage her kids to exercise.

    33% of teenagers overweight or obese? Scary. - 9/4/2008   7:38:24 AM
  • 12
    I have not read the original study but I want to encourage a cautious reading of the results. Like many health studies, this one sounds as if it is a correlational study (i.e. not an experiment that randomly assigns individuals to stress and no stress conditions and not even a quazi-experiment that tries to control some environmental variables.) As a correlational study, these results can not address issues of causation. In other words, it is not possible to say whether parental stress causes children to be overweight. Many variables affect both parental stress and children's weight. More importantly, both parental stress and children's weight have many variables that affect them (i.e., they are both multiply determined). Caveat emptor - correlation does not equal causation. Interpret with caution! - 9/4/2008   12:50:40 AM
  • 11
    I agree with Margolyn61 - there are 4 kids in my DH's family: 2 overweight, 2 avg weight; the overweight kids take after the mom's side who have gout, celiac, blood sugar problems and heart issues. All can be related to eating sugars/grains. SOME people shouldn't eat sugars/grains -- health and diet isn't marketed that way. Can you imagine telling anyone to not eat sugar or grains? "Oh just a little" ... I swear - it's a drug (and the two eldest were affected by that "drug" - the other two couldn't care less. All shared the same stress of living with an alcoholic with chaotic family life.) Alcoholic - grain addiction!?

    I've read studies indicating that eating healthfully is NOT more expensive. It requires knowledge, access and willingness- something not in abundance in some places. Malnutrition causes a vicious circle of "stress."

    I've also read it's easier to discuss religion or politics than to talk about changing someone's diet!

    I love what you say, too, Outofideas! I agree. - 9/4/2008   12:41:34 AM
  • 10
    I so agree w/ABEAL1...have you ever seen the kind of food given to low income families from food banks??...all starch, sugar, salt, and fat! And people wonder why so many "below poverty" individuals have weight problems! This type food "nurtures" health problems, multiplying stress, so I'm not terribly impressed with the validity of this study, even though I agree that stress can cause emotional eating of "comfort" food. - 9/3/2008   11:02:12 PM
  • 9
    I have heard this before. It may not be entirely attributable to bad food choices, although it is certainly a factor. Low income children often live in areas that lack safe places for them to go outside and play due to crime, traffic, or lack of facilities. Other factors might include lack of health insurance to take care of injuries that might result from participation in sports. Schools in low income areas may also cut back on athletics in favor of academic programs. - 9/3/2008   10:37:34 PM
  • 8
    I should also add that they didn't mention if those were single parent homes or not. That too makes a difference in stress levels. - 9/3/2008   9:16:14 PM
  • 7
    I would like to point out that there is a difference between stress and distress and eustress. Eustress is actually good for you, stress not so great, and distress causes problems with functioning.

    Also, those under the poverty line, aka those of low socioeconomic status, tend to be more stressed than those of higher socioeconomic status, as in the middle class. Those who are under a lot of stress tend to take it on their children in abusive ways. Often such is done unconsciously, when really the parent isn't looking to harm their children, but they are looking for relief. How long such stress goes on would also be a huge factor methinks.

    So, this link needs to be studied further because it lacks specificity. - 9/3/2008   8:39:08 PM
  • 6
    OK, so this study was done on families that live below the poverty line...HUMMMM!!!! How about the fact it is soooo darn expensive to eat healthy... Let's see... Three peaches, oh, on sale for $1.49/lbs OR Mac and cheese, three boxes for $1.00... Which one will provide a full belly???? I think this study is skewed just a bit!!!!

    Moms, Don't let this article depress you... There is stress in EVERYONE'S lives... Just be sure to nurture your little ones! - 9/3/2008   8:35:59 PM
  • 5
    I don't think the point is to make parents feel guilty, as that would be counterproductive and add to their stress. I think it's meant to explain some of the reasons people eat less than nutritious food and why we eat when we aren't really hungry. The good news is that knowledge is power for parents and other adults who want to break that cycle. When we know better, we can do better for ourselves and for the children we influence. - 9/3/2008   6:40:52 PM
  • 4
    I think it's just another generalization that these "studies" make to play on people feelings of inadequacy. My husband & I went through lots of stressful things when my kids were very young. And they were never overweight because of my problems. If you care for your children and do your best as a parent to tech them right; that's all that counts!! - 9/3/2008   5:17:38 PM
  • 3
    I agree talk about depressing! Its not enough that we have to be the blame or FEEL to blame for any of our children's one is immune to stress of any kind! I have 2 kids, one who has problems with weight and the other one who doesn't. So if there was stress in my home, why the difference? I'd have to argue that it is more the physical and genetic make-up of each individual that comes into play more than if there is stress in the home. I tried leaving my oldest (who does have weight issues) with the encouragement that she should love the body she has. It doesn't always work no matter what we say or do. Its more of an individual response as to how they react or what they feel! - 9/3/2008   5:11:52 PM
    That pretty much explains my childhood and why I consider food a "comfort." It's definitely a eye opener. - 9/3/2008   5:05:48 PM
    That is depressing to read. I'm a stay at home mom who has been under a HUGE amount of stress over the past year. Because I'm over weight I am always very conscience of what I feed my daughter (she's only three) but I want to make sure that she doesn't pick up my bad habits too. Thank you so much for posting this article. It's something I didn't think about! - 9/3/2008   3:32:32 PM

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