Childhood Obesity a Wide-Ranging Problem

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Mothers need to be sensitive, and toddlers need to feel emotionally secure. If these factors are not in place, the child is at risk of being obese by age 15. This was a conclusion reached in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, which encompassed 977 subjects — all born in 1991 — from nine American states. From Ohio State University, lead author Sarah Anderson, Ph.D, told Psych Central News:

It is possible that childhood obesity could be influenced by interventions that try to improve the emotional bonds between mothers and children rather than focusing only on children’s food intake and activity…. Societally, we need to think about how we can support better-quality maternal-child relationships.

The researchers suggest that diet and exercise are not the only areas where attention is needed, and that parents need to be educated, not blamed. If there is money and energy for prevention initiatives, the constructive move would be to improve mother-child bonding. Such an intention could lead to many interesting dilemmas. In order to bond with their children, mothers first of all have to be present with their children. That is a wonderful ideal, but how can any government make that happen, short of requiring that mothers never work outside the home?

Or, a government might change conditions to where a family could get by with only one wage-earner, so that more mothers could afford to stay home and bond with their kids. In any case, huge changes take time, and their outcome is never guaranteed. When giant societal changes happen, even good ones, they often bring unintended consequences in their wake.

How can a government, or private or nonprofit agency, change people’s behavior without infringing on religious and cultural traditions, violating privacy, or creating a multitude of potential administrative difficulties? How does a society go about changing the quality of emotional relationships between mothers and toddlers? What an enormous and impossible task that seems.

The practical aspects

If the stress-response system is in a state of dysregulation, trouble ensues. Dr. Anderson explained how brain changes might be indirectly responsible for obesity, because of the limbic system, which runs hunger, thirst, the sleep cycle, our stress-response capability, and “a variety of metabolic processes”:

Sensitive parenting increases the likelihood that a child will have a secure pattern of attachment and develop a healthy response to stress. 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.

The case for sleep looks more solid every day, and the prevalence of eating in response to emotional distress is undeniable. The best thing parents can do is work on themselves so they can model healthy behavioral responses to stress, and just generally act to keep the stress level at home very low.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Teen Obesity Linked to Mom’s Relationship with Baby,” PsychCentralcom, 12/26/11
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