Social risk and obesity in children
A study shows a relationship between stress and obesity in girls.
Balintfy: NIH-funded researchers have been studying the relationship between social adversity, or stress, and childhood obesity.
King: They're looking at the children at age 5 to see if they're obese or not.
Balintfy: That's Dr. Roslyn King. She's a health science administrator at the NIH.
King: The possible causal factors that they're looking at are stressful experiences within the family.
Balintfy: Dr. King explains that the researchers used data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study.
King: So the idea behind Fragile Families was to create kind of a new sampling of families, was to capture them at something that the investigators called the magic moment, which is when the child is actually born.
Balintfy: By recruiting at that magic moment, researchers could get information from the whole family mdash; including fathers — and then follow them moving forward. Researchers have now examined the data from Fragile Families which appears to show a link between stress and obesity.
King: They found a statistically significant association for girls in the sample between stressful life events at age 1 and age 3 and obesity at age 5.
Balintfy: Dr. King says the stressful life events researchers looked to measure include things like material hardship.
King: So housing and security, food and security that the family is experiencing. They're also looking for intimate partner violence that the mother might be experiencing. And they're also looking at mother substance use and whether or not the father of the child is incarcerated.
Balintfy: And these factors, researchers say, have an impact. In girls in particular, it is overweight.
King: Stress in the environment, kids, either they're sensitive or they're smart, they get it and impacts them, and it can show up in a variety of ways. In this case, it's showing up in the girls in their body weight.
Balintfy: Dr. King adds that the general pattern is that girls under stress tend to exhibit internalizing behaviors and boys tend to exhibit externalizing behaviors, things like aggression and acting out.
King: Overeating and like eating as comfort food could be seen as more of an internalizing behavior and so that could be the reason that you're seeing a difference in body weight as a manifestation, whereas the boys, for example, they didn't in the study look at acting out behaviors, and possibly you might have seen that the boys were showing their stress in that way.
Balintfy: The researchers conclude in an article published in a recent issue of the journal Pediatrics, that there is a difference in how risk factors affect children. Dr. King reminds that this is an observational study, meaning there is not a clear-cut cause and effect relationship. But there is enough evidence to make recommendations to parents and caregivers.
King: I think this falls into this broader science that's developing right now that stressful situations impact kids. They get under their skin. And parents shouldn't think that kids don't know what's going on or at least aren't feeling something about what's going on.
Balintfy: She says there are ways to help kids cope.
King: Parents can teach kids their own coping strategies and people who are trying to intervene with these families. There are interventions to help parents improve their coping strategies and to take a more family-based view and work with parents and kids at the same time.
Balintfy: For more information on the relationship between stress and childhood obesity, visit www.nichd.nih.gov. And for details on how to combat childhood obesity, visit the websites wecan.nhlbi.nih.gov, win.niddk.nih.gov, and letsmove.gov. For NIH Radio, this is Joe Balintfy— NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. Roslyn King
Topic: obesity, childhood obesity, child, children, girls, overweight, stress, social adversity, stressful experience, family, fragile families