Another thing to blame on Mom? A new study finds that kids who start out with bad relationships with their mothers are more likely to end up obese as teens.
The study, published in Pediatrics, tracked 977 children who were born in 1991 and enrolled in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Researchers found that those who had poor emotional bonds with their mothers in toddlerhood were more than twice as likely to become obese by age 15, compared with children who had healthy relationships — the less secure the children’s early bond with Mom, the greater their chances of obesity.
Among the teens who had shown the lowest-quality emotional relationships with their mothers by age 3, more than 26% were obese, compared with 13% of those who had been closer to Mom in early life.
The new findings support earlier research by the same group finding that toddlers who had insecure relationships with their mothers were also more likely to be obese by age 4 1/2.
The study’s authors, led by Sarah Anderson, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University, suggest that the association between teen obesity and early childhood experience may have its roots in the brain, in areas that regulate hormones influencing emotion and stress response, as well as the sleep-wake cycle, appetite and other metabolic functions.
“Sensitive parenting increases the likelihood that a child will have a secure pattern of attachment and develop a healthy response to stress,” Anderson said in a statement. “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.”
Rather than focusing anti-obesity efforts solely on teens’ diet and exercise, Anderson suggests that interventions starting earlier in childhood — to improve emotional relationships between mothers and their toddlers — could help.
“The sensitivity a mother displays in interacting with her child may be influenced by factors she can’t necessarily control. Societally, we need to think about how we can support better-quality maternal-child relationships, because that could have an impact on child health,” said Anderson.
What does sensitive parenting mean? According to Ohio State University:
Maternal sensitivity refers to a mother’s ability to recognize her child’s emotional state and respond with comfort, consistency and warmth. Psychologists describe securely attached children as those who rely on their parents as a “safe haven,” which allows them to explore their environments freely, adapt easily to new people and be comforted in stressful situations. Toddlers who are insecurely attached tend to have experienced negative or unpredictable parenting, and may respond to stress with extreme anger, fear or anxiety, or avoid or refuse interactions with others.
In other words, don’t be afraid to lavish your children with unconditional love, support and respect.