Does This Stress Make Me Look Fat?
New research suggests that family stress plays a role in the development of obesity among young girls. In fact, three specific forms of family-related stressors have been linked to the risk of developing obesity before the age of 18, say researchers from the University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) and Texas Obesity Research Center (TORC). Stressors identified by researchers include family disruption, financial stress, and maternal poor health. Family disruption may include things like marital strain, divorce, or the death of a family member. Financial stress and poor maternal health are self explanatory.
"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," Assistant Professor Daphne Hernandez said. Among boys, only maternal poor health was associated with the risk of early adult obesity.
"Overall, the findings suggest that female and male adolescents respond differently to stress,” Hernandez said. “This study extends our knowledge of stress and obesity by focusing on the family environment over time. 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.”
The findings suggest that educators and other pubic officials may need to adjust the focus of any obesity-prevention efforts to include risk factors in the home environment. Programs that focus solely on diet and exercise may only yield short-term benefits, in light of the findings. "These programs need to take a broader approach to combatting obesity by helping families experiencing these kinds of stressors find access to mental health programs, financial assistance or family counseling,” Hernandez said. “Developing strategies to help with family stressors during childhood may help children maintain healthy weight into adulthood.”
Daphne C. Hernandez, Emily Pressler. Gender disparities among the association between cumulative family-level stress & adolescent weight status. Preventive Medicine, 2015; 73: 60 DOI: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2015.01.013