Babies with stressed parents are more likely to become fat children because their parents might overfeed them or pass on anxiety that triggers comfort eating, study claims
- Children gained more weight between five and 14 if their father was stressed
- But the same link was not true between mothers and sons, a UCL study found
- It suggested stress-causing circumstances in parents might affect child health
Babies who grow up with stressed parents are more likely to become obese children, a study suggests.
Children put on more weight between the ages of five and 14 if their father suffered from anxiety after they were born.
Girls’ weight also appeared to be affected by their mother’s worries but this had no impact on boys.
Researchers from University College London say more work is needed to establish the reason for the possible link.
But they warn stressed parents may overfeed their baby or fail to give them the freedom they need to move around.
Some of their concerns may brush off on their youngster, who could turn to comfort eating as a coping mechanism.
Or the worries may stem from social deprivation and job insecurity, which can impact on the quality of a child’s diet and lifestyle.
Psychologist Kristiane Tommerup said her findings highlight the importance of providing parents with ‘social, mental health, and socioeconomic support’.
Children put on more weight between the ages of five and 14 if their father suffered from anxiety after they were born, researchers found
She analysed data on over 6,000 children born in the UK between 2000 and 2002.
Researchers asked parents if they were stressed when their child was aged nine months and again at three years.
They also noted the children’s weight and fat gain from five to 14 years.
Around 10 per cent of mothers reported emotional distress at nine months and 10 per cent at three years.
The figures for fathers increased from six per cent to 10 per cent over this period.
Fathers’ distress reported at nine months was associated with steeper increases in body mass index (BMI) and excess body fat for both girls and boys.
Child obesity cases treated in NHS hospitals have DOUBLED in two years, study claims
The number of obese babies and toddlers treated in NHS hospitals has more than doubled in two years, figures show.
Doctors say obesity was a contributory factor in 1,087 patients aged four and under last year, with 61 less than a year old.
Conditions included diabetes, asthma, potentially fatal sleep apnoea and stomach reflux, caused by scoffing fatty foods.
The figure has more than tripled from 336 in 2013/14 to 1,087 in 2019/20, the latest year for which figures are available.
The numbers, from NHS Digital, are also double the 531 reported in 2017/18.
However, mothers’ distress reported at both nine months and three years was associated with steeper increases in BMI and excess body fat in girls only.
Miss Tommerup said: ‘We know the first few years of life are crucial for healthy weight development, however we don’t know exactly which psychological and social exposures during the early years put some children at greater risk of developing overweight in later childhood.
‘Our findings underscore how a lack of social, mental health, and socioeconomic support available to parents may have long-term health implications for their children.’
She added: ‘It seems that distress experienced by fathers during infancy may place their children at greater risk for developing overweight across their childhood.
‘This underscores the key role that fathers play in shaping the healthy growth of their children from the start of life.
‘In order to protect children’s health, more needs to be done to support mental health and wellbeing among both parents in the early years, as well as tackle the wider social drivers of mental health inequalities.
‘Further studies are needed to uncover the biological, social, and behavioural mechanisms underlying these associations.’
Almost a quarter of children are overweight or obese by the time they start primary school in England, rising to more than one in three by the time they leave.
Children living in deprived areas of the UK are twice as likely to have developed obesity than those living in more affluent areas by the age of five.
The findings, which only included two-parent households, will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity on Tuesday.