Millions of poor children in the United States may be getting fat before age 10 because their mothers are stressed out and the youngsters seek escape in unhealthy comfort food, researchers said on Tuesday.
The stress is rooted in poverty and can be brought on by money woes, work loads, insufficient health insurance and other factors, said Craig Gundersen, University of Illinois. “People will eat in response to feeling stress,” he said.
Researchers said: “We found that the cumulative stress experienced by the child’s mother is an important determinant of child overweight.”
Children in stressed homes where there was plentiful food were more likely to be overweight than those living in stressed situations where food was scarce, they added, because while both were reacting to stress, the former group had food available in which to find refuge. “Children in food-secure households may have a greater ability to consume more ‘comfort foods,’ which are often unhealthy, in response to the (stress) they experience,” they wrote.
“Our findings are particularly relevant for children between the ages of 3 and 10,” the researchers wrote, because older children can find release outside the home through friends or work.
An estimated 17 per cent of US children between the ages of two and 19 are obese and another 16 per cent are overweight. “A number of mothers in this study suffer from at least one symptom of depression and anxiety. By providing these women with relevant medical care and counseling, these symptoms may be alleviated with the further indirect benefit of reducing childhood overweight,” the researchers wrote.