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FITNESS, HEALTH, WELLNESS

features

Research: Family matters

US research shows that stressful family situations lead to obesity in children

By Katie Barnes, Spa Business | Published in Health Club Management 2015 issue 6
Girls tend to gain weight as a result of family disruption – but this is not the case among boys / www.shutterstock.com/wavebreakmedia
Girls tend to gain weight as a result of family disruption – but this is not the case among boys / www.shutterstock.com/wavebreakmedia

School-based obesity prevention programmes focusing only on diet and physical activity may need to take into account children’s home lives if they’re to be effective, according to a new study from the US. Researchers in Texas have revealed that there’s a relationship between long-term exposure to three specific types of family stressors and children becoming obese by the time they turn 18.

Stress factors studied
Daphne Hernandez, an assistant professor at the University of Houston – in collaboration with the Texas Obesity Research Centre – looked at data on 4,700 adolescents recorded in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth.

She focused on the children’s exposure to three family stressors from when they born up to their 15th birthday and then took into account their BMI/weight when they reached 18.

The three factors analysed were: family disruption and conflict, including divorce, bereavement and abuse; financial strain; and poor maternal health, where the mother had high risk habits such as drinking/drug problems or serious depression.

Gender disparities
The results of the study, which were published in the journal Preventive Medicine* show that the factors that trigger weight problems are different among girls compared to boys.

Hernandez says: “Experiencing family stress repeatedly through childhood – specifically family disruption and financial stress – was associated with being overweight or obese by the time adolescent girls reached 18.”

In comparison, only one stressor – poor maternal health – was related to boys becoming overweight or obese by the time they turned 18.

Underlying mechanisms
The reason why stressful family situations led to weight gain in adolescents is not entirely clear and could be an area for further research. But Hernandez believes it could be linked to the stress hormone cortisol, which has been proven to cause the body to store fat, lose muscle, slow metabolic rate and increase appetite.

In an article in Time magazine she says: “Behaviourally, you then gravitate to more palatable foods – the high calorie, high fat foods – so you’re not reaching for that apple or celery stick.”

Broader approach needed
Hernandez says: “By knowing the types of stressors that influence female and male adolescent weight gain, we can tailor specific social services to be included in obesity programmes.”

The findings are particularly pertinent to school-based obesity programmes that currently focus just on dietary intake and physical activity – an approach Hernandez believes yield only short-term benefits. “The programmes need to take a broader approach to combatting obesity by helping families experiencing these kinds of stressors find access to mental health programmes, financial assistance or family counselling,” she says. “Developing strategies to help with family stressors during childhood may help children maintain healthy weight into adulthood.”

*Hernandez D & Pressler E. Gender disparities among the association between cumulative family-level stress & adolescent weight status. Preventive Medicine. Apr 2015

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Trott and the Matrix pro cycling team are aiming to compete in the new world tour series in 2016
Trott and the Matrix pro cycling team are aiming to compete in the new world tour series in 2016
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/487407_170593.jpg
Stressful family situations can lead to overweight in kids – especially girls
Katie Barnes,Research, children, obesity, family, stress
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features

Research: Family matters

US research shows that stressful family situations lead to obesity in children

By Katie Barnes, Spa Business | Published in Health Club Management 2015 issue 6
Girls tend to gain weight as a result of family disruption – but this is not the case among boys / www.shutterstock.com/wavebreakmedia
Girls tend to gain weight as a result of family disruption – but this is not the case among boys / www.shutterstock.com/wavebreakmedia

School-based obesity prevention programmes focusing only on diet and physical activity may need to take into account children’s home lives if they’re to be effective, according to a new study from the US. Researchers in Texas have revealed that there’s a relationship between long-term exposure to three specific types of family stressors and children becoming obese by the time they turn 18.

Stress factors studied
Daphne Hernandez, an assistant professor at the University of Houston – in collaboration with the Texas Obesity Research Centre – looked at data on 4,700 adolescents recorded in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth.

She focused on the children’s exposure to three family stressors from when they born up to their 15th birthday and then took into account their BMI/weight when they reached 18.

The three factors analysed were: family disruption and conflict, including divorce, bereavement and abuse; financial strain; and poor maternal health, where the mother had high risk habits such as drinking/drug problems or serious depression.

Gender disparities
The results of the study, which were published in the journal Preventive Medicine* show that the factors that trigger weight problems are different among girls compared to boys.

Hernandez says: “Experiencing family stress repeatedly through childhood – specifically family disruption and financial stress – was associated with being overweight or obese by the time adolescent girls reached 18.”

In comparison, only one stressor – poor maternal health – was related to boys becoming overweight or obese by the time they turned 18.

Underlying mechanisms
The reason why stressful family situations led to weight gain in adolescents is not entirely clear and could be an area for further research. But Hernandez believes it could be linked to the stress hormone cortisol, which has been proven to cause the body to store fat, lose muscle, slow metabolic rate and increase appetite.

In an article in Time magazine she says: “Behaviourally, you then gravitate to more palatable foods – the high calorie, high fat foods – so you’re not reaching for that apple or celery stick.”

Broader approach needed
Hernandez says: “By knowing the types of stressors that influence female and male adolescent weight gain, we can tailor specific social services to be included in obesity programmes.”

The findings are particularly pertinent to school-based obesity programmes that currently focus just on dietary intake and physical activity – an approach Hernandez believes yield only short-term benefits. “The programmes need to take a broader approach to combatting obesity by helping families experiencing these kinds of stressors find access to mental health programmes, financial assistance or family counselling,” she says. “Developing strategies to help with family stressors during childhood may help children maintain healthy weight into adulthood.”

*Hernandez D & Pressler E. Gender disparities among the association between cumulative family-level stress & adolescent weight status. Preventive Medicine. Apr 2015

Sign up here to get HCM's weekly ezine and every issue of HCM magazine free on digital.
Trott and the Matrix pro cycling team are aiming to compete in the new world tour series in 2016
Trott and the Matrix pro cycling team are aiming to compete in the new world tour series in 2016
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/487407_170593.jpg
Stressful family situations can lead to overweight in kids – especially girls
Katie Barnes,Research, children, obesity, family, stress
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Diary dates
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