Some Kids' Stress Might Mean Weight Gain

Negative life events in lives of children may influence later weight gain

(RxWiki News) Children respond to stressful life events in different ways, just as adults do. However, one common result may be a higher risk of becoming overweight.

A recent study found that teens were more likely to be overweight if they had experienced many negative events in their early lives.

These events could include family illness, divorce, home foreclosure, newly caring for an elderly family member, or similar events.

The more events the children experienced, the more likely they were to be overweight when they were 15 years old.

Parents can use this information to be more aware of how stressful or negative life events might affect their children.

"Pay attention to how life events affect your children."

The study, led by Julie C. Lumeng, MD, of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, looked at whether types of events in children's lives influenced their risk of becoming overweight.

The researchers interviewed the mothers of 848 children when the children were aged 4, 9 and 11.

Then the researchers followed up to see what each child's weight was at age 15.

In doing their analysis, the researchers took into account differences in the children's sex and race/ethnicity, as well as differences in the children's mothers' levels of education and weight.

The researchers found that the children had about 47 percent greater odds of being overweight if they had experienced a high number of negative life events in their young life.

Having experienced "many" negative life events meant experiencing anywhere from 5 to 17 events across all three ages.

Negative events included serious physical or mental injury or illness to a family member, financial problems (such as home foreclosure or a parent being fired or laid off), family relationship problems (such as divorce or arguments), and changes to the family structure (such as a new child or caring for an elderly family member).

The more often these events had occurred across different ages and the more negative the events were, the more likely the child was to be overweight later.

The link between negative life events and being overweight as a teen was stronger if the negative events dealt with physical or mental health within the family.

The link was also stronger among children whose mothers were obese. The link existed for both boys and girls.

"Clinicians might consider attending to the possibility of increases in overweight risk among children experiencing a substantial number of negative life events concurrently at any point in childhood, as well as children living in households in which adults or family members are experiencing life events related to their own physical or mental health and wellbeing," the authors wrote.

The study was published November 11 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the American Heart Association. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 10, 2013