Family stress can lead to weight gain in girls

Family stress can lead to weight gain in girls

New study suggests children become obese due to exposure from three specific types of family stressors – family disruption, financial stress and maternal poor health.

Researchers from the University of Houston Department of Health and Texas Obesity Research Center analyzed families of more than 4,700 teens born between 1975 and 1990.

The study found when adolescent girls experience the three stress points repeatedly throughout childhood, they are more likely to be overweight or obese by age 18. For boys, their mother’s poor health seemed to show an association with obesity.

“This study extends our knowledge of stress and obesity by focusing on the family environment over time,” said Daphne Hernandez, lead study author, in a news release.

Health experts say the link between childhood obesity and family stress can be multifaceted.

For instance, a child who grows up in a household with stress due to limited financial resources may develop a sense of “food anxiety” because he or she doesn’t know when food will be available.

“This can lead to food hoarding and secrecy, food-seeking behaviors and even binging when food is present,” says Rosemary Mueller, registered dietitian with Advocate Medical Group – Weight Management.

Another problem when money is tight is poor nutritional choices.

“When a family is financially stressed, food dollars may more likely be spent on cheaper, processed foods,” Mueller says. “Although community food pantries offer solutions, not everyone feels comfortable seeking out these resources.”

Mueller adds that stressed out parents and caregivers are also more likely to buy fast food and not spend adequate time planning meals that include nutritious options.

“Children need a healthy diet of whole foods with meal and snack regularity,” Mueller says. “They also need plenty of exercise, as well as love and emotional support and an outlet for stress.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tips to help families make healthy food choices include:

  • Limit fried foods
  • Eat more fiber by eating more whole-grain foods
  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, including fresh, frozen, canned or dried
  • Drink fewer sodas

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One Comment

  1. Daphne Hernandez April 20, 2015 at 2:47 pm · Reply

    Dear Kathleen – Thank you for posting my study on the website. I appreciate the support. Daphne Hernandez, PhD

About the Author

Kathleen Troher
Kathleen Troher

Kathleen Troher, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Good Sheperd Hospital in Barrington. She has more than 20 years of journalism experience, with her primary focus in the newspaper and magazine industry. Kathleen graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, earning her degree in journalism with an emphasis on science writing and broadcasting. She loves to travel with her husband, Ross. They share their home with a sweet Samoyed named Maggie.