Children, Grownups, Stress, and Obesity (Part 5)

Sedentary Lifestyle

The yearly “Stress in America” report supplies an astonishing number of interesting statistics, many of which Childhood Obesity News has already discussed. For instance, one point made in the 2010 report was:

Currently, tweens and teens report that they turn to sedentary behaviors to make themselves feel better when they are really worried or stressed, such as listening to music (36 percent of tweens and 66 percent of teens), playing video games (56 percent of tweens and 41 percent of teens) or watching TV (34 percent of tweens and 30 percent of teens).

When asked how they cope with the pressures of life, normal-weight kids are more likely to report such active pursuits as playing sports to be a stress-relieving activity — but even so, it was only 21% of the normal-weight kids who said so. That’s only one out of five, a pitifully small number, if claims of the efficacy of exercise are to be believed. When they were asked about eating as an anti-stress coping mechanism, 27% of the overweight respondents gave a positive answer, in contrast to only 14% of the normal-weight kids.

To Dr. Pretlow, of course, it is clear that food addiction is the problem behind a great deal of childhood obesity, and no amount of exercise can take the place of recognizing that hyperpalatable foods can act as a substance of abuse in the lives of both children and adults. He says:

Treatment of substance dependence generally necessitates that the person learn how to cope with life without using the substance. Kids have posted that they’ve lost weight once they realized that they were using food to cope and had become addicted and that food should be used only for nutrition.

But getting back to the fascinating survey results — surprisingly, a quarter of the overweight youth said they took naps to escape stress, as contrasted to only 15% of their normal-weight compatriots. It is possible that the researchers asked the wrong question. Teenagers are frequently known for their inability to get out of bed in the morning, needing to be called again and again by their frazzled parents eager to get on with an agenda. While sufficient sleep is very important, it is also possible that excessive late-sleeping is an anti-stress method that was not covered under the question about naps.

One advantage of an ongoing annual survey is that the researchers can refine and expand their questions in successive years. The 2011 “Stress in America” survey had plenty to say about the differences between males and females. Writing for Psychology Today, Ron Breazeale explained some of the findings pertaining to the gender-linked differences:

Survey results also suggest that the link between stress and physical health and illness is harder for men to recognize. Men are less likely than women to believe that stress can have an impact on their health. This may be one of the reasons why men are less likely to do anything about stress than women… Sizable portions of all adults report unhealthy behaviors often being a consequence of stress. These consequences include sleep problems, eating unhealthy foods and skipping meals.

But it wouldn’t be fair to go on and on about this without offering some glimmer of hope, and one of the chapters in Dr. Pretlow’s book, Overweight: What Kids Say, focuses on stress-reducing strategies to help prevent or recover from food addiction.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Key Findings,” APA.org
Source: “In the Face of Adversity,” Psychology Today, 03/12
Image by FBellon.

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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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