"For families who are experiencing all these stresses, obesity is one more thing and may not be as high a priority as other things," said study author Shakira Suglia, an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at Columbia University, in New York City. "Particularly for girls, when you're seeing these patients coming in as obese children at age 5, there is probably more going on than what they're eating and what their physical activity is. ... There are other things going on in the family environment that need to be addressed to improve the health of the child."
The study is published in the May issue of Pediatrics.
There are several explanations thought to be behind the stress-obesity connection, said Christina Bethell, a professor in the pediatrics department at Oregon Health & Science University and director of the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative.
"The connection between stress, health behaviors and obesity is profound and many say that to deal with obesity, first we have to deal with psychosocial issues and stress," said Bethell.
There may be a direct relationship, in that kids who are stressed because of difficult home life may be more prone to eat highly caloric foods. Studies have suggested in adults that stress prompts people to reach for "comfort foods," Suglia said.
But there may be indirect effects as well. Mothers who are stressed, or who are dealing with worries such as violence or serious economic instability, may not be as emotionally available to their kids, Suglia said, and may put kids in front of the TV or feed them junk food to keep them occupied as they try to deal with their own problems.
Economic instability may mean families can't afford or believe they can't afford to buy fresh produce, lean cuts of meat and other nutritious foods, she added.
Prior research has found stress caused by domestic violence and poverty is associated with greater ris
All rights reserved