Parent Stress And Childhood Obesity: One Obvious Link

There are times when you read about a new scientific paper that was just published and think (or say) something like: 

“Duh. Who doesn’t know this? I can’t believe that money was spent on that!”

Well, this may be one of those studies. But the thing about science is that we don’t get to just think something is one way or the other – we have to prove it. And when the data support what we think – whether or not it’s obvious – it’s a platform for action. So here we go.

A recent study in Pediatrics reported a strong statistical association between levels of parental stress and childhood obesity – more stress was associated with a higher risk of obesity. Part of the reason for this was fast-food consumption – higher levels of parental stress were associated with greater consumption of fast food and higher rates of childhood obesity. And keep in mind the researchers controlled for a whole bunch of other factors.

Now, we all know that when we are stressed, we might be more prone to eat what we shouldn’t. Some of this is psychological – we might crave something that isn’t exactly healthy. We might also be pressed for time – and hence want something fast. The point of this study is that if there is lots of stress – on a daily basis – this can become a habit. And this habit contributes to the obesity epidemic.

Okay, you might be thinking we all know this. Maybe – but this study provided data to support the idea. It could have been that stress is just something that happens to everyone, and those moments of junky eating when highly stressed isn’t what contributes to obesity. But it does. And here’s the other thing about human behavior – even though we know things, that doesn’t mean we are good about acting on that knowledge.

So here’s a good take-home message. Stress happens to everyone – and some people have a lot of stress in their lives. It’s important to try to keep healthy foods within reach. Having good snacks in the car can help stave off the fast-food stress response. Consciously making a healthy choice in a fast-food restaurant – for yourself and your kids – can help too. The obesity epidemic is a real thing, and these kinds of behaviors contribute to it. They become habits, and habits are not easy to break. But becoming mindful of the need to change these habits – especially when supported by scientific studies – is a good step in the right direction.

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