A new study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University and published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that there is an association between the quality of the mother-child relationship and a child’s risk for adolescent obesity. Researchers assessed the attachment of approximately 1,000 children to their mothers as well as maternal sensitivity when the children were 15, 24, and 36 months old.
As if the plot of the child obesity epidemic needed thickening, the study revealed that children who were “insecurely attached” before age 3 were more likely to be overweight at age 15 and children who had difficult relationships with their mother in the first three years of life were over two times more likely to be obese than those who did not. However, this elevated risk declined some when other risk factors for obesity, like household income and maternal education, were taken into account.
What does it mean exactly for a child to be “insecurely attached?” According to the study, Toddlers who are insecurely attached “tend to have experienced negative or unpredictable parenting” and as a result may have heightened levels of stress or anxiety.
So, what does lead author of the study, Sarah Anderson, suggest we do to keep our children from turning to food as a stress reducer? Simple. Parent more sensitively. “Sensitive parenting increases the likelihood that a child will have a secure pattern of attachment and develop a healthy response to stress,” Anderson 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.”
I admit, I did a double-take when I first came across this study. Aside from the fact that it makes no mention of the father’s role, it felt a lot like an exercise in finger pointing. What mother doesn’t worry at one point or another about her bond with her toddler? Parenting them at times is not unlike living with a pint-sized, belligerent, dictator. Now I have to worry that I’m increasing my child’s chance of being overweight every time I lose my cool with them during a tantrum?
Ultimately, if you are the type of mother who would stop to evaluate your relationship with your child after reading the outcome of this study, I’m willing to bet you are unlikely to be in the group with cause to worry and while improving the bond between mother and child couldn’t hurt, I think it’s a drop in the ocean when compared to the drastic overhaul our country will have to undergo to slow the progression of childhood obesity.