Washington, Dec 26 : The quality of the emotional relationship between a mother and her child could affect the potential for that kid to be obese during adolescence, a new study has suggested.
Researchers from Ohio State University analysed data from 977 participants in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a project of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The sample in this national study included diverse families living in nine U. S. states whose children were born in 1991.
As part of that national study, trained observers assessed child attachment security and maternal sensitivity by documenting interactions between mothers and their children at three time points – when the children were 15, 24 and 36 months old.
In the maternal sensitivity assessment, mothers were instructed to play with their child while investigators rated several aspects of each mother’s behaviour, including supportiveness and respect for autonomy as well as signs of intrusiveness or hostility.
Investigators rated attachment security of the children at age 15 and 36 months by monitoring a child’s separation from and reunion with the mother. At 24 months, researchers assessed children’s attachment security by observing mothers and children in their home.
Using these assessments of maternal sensitivity and child attachment security, Sarah Anderson and her colleagues developed a maternal-child relationship quality score for their own statistical analysis.
With a range of zero to six, the score served as an aggregate measure of a child’s early relationship experience, each point reflected a child’s display of insecure attachment or a mother’s ranking in the lowest quartile of sensitivity at one of the three assessment time points.
The researchers designated a score equal to or greater than three as indicating a poor-quality emotional relationship.
They calculated the body mass index (BMI) of the children using their heights and weights measured at or near age 15 years. BMIs were converted into percentiles for age and sex based on growth charts developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In accordance with current guidelines, children were considered obese if their BMI scores were at or above the 95th percentile on those charts.
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.
The researchers suggest that this association between early childhood experiences and teen obesity has origins in the brain. The limbic system in the brain controls responses to stress as well as the sleep and wake cycle, hunger and thirst, and a variety of metabolic processes, mostly through the regulation of hormones.
“Sensitive parenting increases the likelihood that a child will have a secure pattern of attachment and develop a healthy response to stress,” Anderson, the lead author, said.
“A well-regulated stress response could in turn influence how well children sleep and whether they eat in response to emotional distress – just two factors that affect the likelihood for obesity,” she said.
Obesity may be one manifestation of dysregulation in the functioning of the stress response system. Parents help children develop a healthy response to stress by protecting children from extreme levels of stress, responding supportively and consistently to normal levels of stress, and modelling behavioural responses to stress.
“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,” she added.
The study will be published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. (ANI)