Experiencing certain family stress repeatedly throughout the childhood can make kids obese by the time they turn 18, research has found.
While maternal poor health can make boys obese by the time they turn 18, long-term exposure to financial stress and family disruption can make adolescent girls vulnerable to gaining extra kilos by the time they turn into adults, the findings showed.
"Experiencing family stress – specifically family disruption and financial stress – repeatedly throughout childhood was associated with overweight or obesity by the time adolescent girls turned 18," said Daphne Hernandez, assistant professor at University of Houston.
Interestingly, only one chronic family stress point – maternal poor health – was related to boys becoming overweight or obese by the time they turned 18, the researchers noted.
"Overall, the findings suggest that female and male adolescents respond differently to stress,” Hernandez pointed out.
“By knowing the types of stressors that influence female and male adolescent weight gain, we can tailor specific social services to be included in obesity prevention programs," she said.
Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, the researchers examined three family stress points – family disruption, financial stress and maternal poor health – and applied those to data of more than 4,700 adolescents born between 1975 and 1990.
Hernandez said that the findings are important particularly to school-based obesity prevention programmes that currently focus on dietary intake and physical activity, which she says yield only short-term benefits.
"These programs need to take a broader approach to combatting obesity by helping families experiencing these kinds of stressors find access to mental health programmes, financial assistance or family counseling," she said in the study published in the journal Preventive Medicine.