The quality of a mother’s relationship with her toddler could affect that child’s weight in adolescence, a study has found.
The report was based on observing how mothers interacted with their children when they were 15, 24 and 36 months old, then following up with those kids when they turned 15 to check levels of obesity. Study participants included 977 children.
Researchers concentrated on two aspects of the relationship: attachment security, or how aware children are that their mother is a base of security and a comforting presence in times of stress; and maternal sensitivity, or a mother’s awareness of her child’s emotional state and her ability to be comforting and warm. The quality of the relationships was rated on a six-point scale, with scores of three or greater indicating an emotional relationship of poor quality.
Overall, the worse the relationship between mother and toddler, the greater the chances of the child being obese by age 15. Among the children, 24.7 percent had an adverse relationship with their mothers, scoring three or higher. Having low maternal sensitivity, insecure attachment and both together were linked with a greater chance of being obese in adolescence.
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Specifically, obesity prevalence in teen years was 26.1 percent among those with a score of three or greater, 15.5 percent among those with a score of two, 12.1 percent among those with a score of one, and 13 percent among those with a score of zero.
When researchers controlled for birth weight and gender, they discovered that the odds of becoming obese in adolescence was 2.45 times higher for those who had the worst relationships with their mothers, compared with those with the best relationships.
Researchers said they believe that good or bad relationship bonds early on could affect how the child reacts to stress, such as overeating or having poor-quality sleep.
“Sensitive parenting increases the likelihood that a child will have a secure pattern of attachment and develop a healthy response to stress,” said lead author Sarah Anderson of Ohio State University in a news release. “A well-regulated stress response could in turn influence how well children sleep and whether they eat in response to emotional distress — just two factors that affect the likelihood for obesity.”
Anderson, an assistant professor of epidemiology, stopped short of blaming mothers for having an effect on their children’s weight: “It is possible,” she said, “that childhood obesity could be influenced by interventions that try to improve the emotional bonds between mothers and children rather than focusing only on children’s food intake and activity.”
The study was published in the January 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Los Angeles Times