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Quality of parent-toddler relationship could affect risk for childhood obesity
Date:4/19/2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio Toddlers who do not have a secure emotional relationship with their parents, and particularly their mothers, could be at increased risk for obesity by age 4 , according to new research.

The study suggests that children at age 24 months who show insecure attachment patterns have at least 30 percent higher odds for obesity by age 4 .

The association persisted even after researchers accounted for other family-related factors that could provide alternative explanations for the children's obesity.

Psychologists describe securely attached children as those who rely on their parents as a "safe haven," which allows them to explore their environments freely, adapt easily to new people and be comforted in stressful situations. Toddlers who are insecurely attached tend to have experienced negative or unpredictable parenting, and may respond to stress with extreme anger, fear or anxiety, or avoid or refuse interactions with others.

The findings suggest that overlapping regulatory areas of the brain that govern emotional and stress responses, as well as control appetite and energy balance, could provide a stronger influence than previously thought on the likelihood that a young child will be obese.

"I hope this work can help to broaden our thinking about the causes of childhood obesity," said Sarah Anderson, assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.

"Our hypothesis is that secure attachment could reduce the risk for childhood obesity by preventing frequent or exaggerated stress responses from disrupting the normal functioning and development of the systems that affect energy balance and body weight. Children's stress responses and emotion regulation are formed in early childhood in the context of parent-child interactions, and one indicator that the child has developed healthy emotion regulation and stress response is secure attachment."

Anders
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Contact: Sarah Anderson
sanderson@cph.osu.edu
614-293-4702
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert

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