The Parental Stress, Childhood Obesity Link

Numbers for a healthy start in life

Whether it’s from increased long-term financial strain, or the day-to-day demands on their time, stressed-out parents can put their child at increased risk for being overweight or obese says an article from the November 2012 issue of Pediatrics. Researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found a correlation between increased levels of perceived stress among parents and child obesity.

The researchers believed that this was linked to the lack of time the parents under stress are experiencing.

If parents feel like they fall into this category or want to prevent their stress upon their children there are steps they can take that might help.  Dr. Christopher McCarthy, professor and counseling psychology director for the University of Texas in Austin who was not involved with the study, suggests that stressed parents find time in their hectic lives for easing or preventing stress.

If you think you don’t have the time, think again McCarthy says.

"It’s the same thing with your checkbook. You can say that you have no wiggle room, but if you actually sit down and look at it, often you can find monthly expenditures or in this case time, where you can ask yourself: Do I really need this?”  When you free up a block of time, you should use it to do things that help you cope with pressure. For example, reach out to family and friends for support, he suggests.

In its 2010 Stress in American Survey, one of the largest studies that measures stress in the United States, the American Psychological and Association found that “overweight children are more likely to report that their parents were often or always stressed.”

Among the findings:

  • Children who believe they are overweight are significantly more likely than those with a normal weight to report that their parent has been always/often worried or stressed about things in the past month (39 percent vs. 30 percent). Most children,  or 91 percent, stated that they know their parent is stressed because they notice a change in their actions like yelling, arguing and complaining

Dr. Stephen Pont, medical director at the Austin-based Texas Center for Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity, says stress can undermine your intentions to make healthy choices.

“Sometimes stress pushes us to choose comfort foods, which are not usually the best option.” Dr. Pont said, “That can turn into a negative cycle not only for the parents but also for the whole family.” He also encourages families to spend time outside in the yard or at a park. It’s a proven stress reliever and best of all it’s free.

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