Recent studies have found that the mental health of a child’s mother can impact whether children become depressed or anxious or whether they develop childhood asthma. But a new study from Ohio State University reveals that the emotional quality of children’s relationships with their moms could also have an impact on whether they become obese teens.

For the study, the researchers analyzed national data detailing the relationship characteristics of mothers and their children during their toddler years:

“Among those toddlers who had the lowest-quality emotional relationships with their mothers, more than a quarter were obese as teens, compared to 13 percent of adolescents who had closer bonds with their mothers in their younger years. The findings mirror previous research by these scientists that showed toddlers who did not have a secure emotional relationship with their parents were at increased risk for obesity by age 4-and-a-half. This body of work suggests the areas of the brain that control emotions and stress responses, as well as appetite and energy balance, could be working together to influence the likelihood that a child will be obese. … A total of 241 children, or 24.7 percent, were classified as having a poor quality maternal-child relationship during early childhood based on a score of three or higher. The prevalence of obesity in adolescence was 26.1 percent among these children with the poorest early maternal-child relationships. The teen obesity prevalence was lower for children with better maternal relationships: 15.5 percent, 12.1 percent and 13 percent among those who had scores of two, one and zero, respectively.”

Says the study’s lead author Sarah Anderson: “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. The evidence here is supportive of the association between a poor quality maternal-child relationship and an increased chance for adolescent obesity. Interventions are effective in increasing maternal sensitivity and enhancing young children’s ability to regulate their emotions, but the effect of these interventions on children’s obesity risk is not known, and we think it would be worth investigating.”

Source: Ohio State University

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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