Your Relationship with Your Toddler May Affect Obesity Risk

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • Recent research published in the journal, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, suggests that toddlers who do not have "secure emotional relationships" with their parents, and especially their mothers, could have an increased risk of obesity by age 4 ½.  The study looked specifically at toddlers who were about 24 months of age and when labeled as having a less than optimal and secure relationship with mom or mom and dad, had a 30% increased risk of developing obesity within the next 2 ½ years. 


    The study suggests that areas of the brain that overlap, namely the areas that govern emotional and stress responses, as well as those that control appetite and energy balance, could interact and provide a stronger impact than was previously considered, on the likelihood of obesity outcome later in life. The research is important because health experts want to identify "that which we can control" when it comes to modifying the risks associated with direct causes of obesity. The feeling is that if we can "get ahead" of some of the things that put us at risk of obesity, we can begin to limit some of the causes, which means we may finally be able to stop or reduce the ongoing trend in kids and adults. 

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    The researcher's hypothesis was that a secure attachment and relationship between toddler and parent(s) could minimize the risk of obesity by preventing exaggerated stress response from disrupting the normal functioning and development of the systems that effect energy balance and body weight (Newswise, April 21, 2011). Since children's stress responses and emotional makeup is typically formed in early childhood, often during the context of parent to child interactions, it makes sense to associate a less secure attachment with poorly developed emotion regulation and stress responses.  It may be that these kids go on to use food as a significant emotional coping tool rather than just for fuel.


    The study looked at thousands of kids, born in the US in 2001.  The children were analyzed at age 2 ½ and given an attachment security score.  They were then observed again at 4 ½ , and kids were considered obese if their BMI was at or above 95th percentile on the BMI chart.  The researchers looked at a variety of parent and child interactions including those related to parenting practices, eating habits, household routines, play time, learning time and also sociodemographic characteristics.  After adjusting their findings to remove certain issues that could prevent the study from being statistically accurate, the findings showed the increased odds of 30% for obesity when looking at kids who were "poorly attached."  The researcher concluded that there is more to preventing obesity than just focusing of food intake and exercise.


Published On: August 01, 2011