Any mother who has had a teenager is very familiar with the eye roll, the exasperated groan and, of course, the blame for just about everything that is wrong in the world! Just in case you busy multi-tasking moms out there don't have enough worries to feel guilty about, now, according to a new study out in the Journal of Pediatrics, we can add our teenager's weight problem to that list.
This study analyzed data from the national study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a project of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It included data samples from diverse families living in nine U.S. states whose children were born in 1991. As part of that study toddlers were monitored at 15, 24 and 36 months along with their mothers. These mother-child interactions were monitored and scored for maternal supportiveness and the child's reaction as well as "attachment security" in different situations.
They found that almost 25 percent of study participants had the poor quality maternal-child relationships, which they described as the mother's inability to recognize their child's emotional state and stress level as well as mom's inability to offer comfort, warmth and consistency as a "safe haven." They then found that these kids with poor relationships were almost twice as likely to be obese at the age of 15 than kids who had the best relationships with their mothers.
While not really proving cause and effect, researchers speculated that this early childhood stress might affect an area in the brain called the limbic system, which regulates hormones affecting sleep/wake and thirst/hunger cycles. As adolescents these kids might develop responses to deal with this type of stress by becoming emotional eaters.
Wow, news flash, anyone of the million viewers who watched Oprah or still watches The Biggest Loser could tell you that stress and insecurity can lead to emotional overeating! Of course no one can argue with the importance of trying to raise a secure, happy, healthy child. However as a mother, I am concerned that this study just adds more guilt and blame to our huge list of worries about child rearing. And blame isn't a constructive way to deal with the problem of childhood obesity.
As a physician, I am certainly not making light of the plight of obesity today. It is estimated that over one-third of children and adolescents are obese or overweight. According to the CDC, this number has more than tripled in the last 30 years. However, since parenting problems have been around much longer than that, it is obvious there are many other contributing factors to this problem, things such as unhealthy processed foods along with our sedentary lifestyles.
I don't want this study to add a further burden to many hard-working mothers. Equally I don't want this study to take away your teenagers' personal responsibility in dealing with their weight. Adolescence is a time of separation from parents and the beginning of forging their own ideas, personality and independence. Part of this should be taking some control of their health. And parents should be discussing this with their teens as well as leading by example.
While both parents and their children work together on better goals of healthy eating and increasing their physical activity, then I think this study does shed some needed light on the idea of examining your relationship with family as well as how that may impact your eating habits. It certainly underscores how we are products of both our nurture and our nature equally.