Monday, June 13, 2011

Quality of Parent-Toddler Relationship Linked with Childhood Obesity

A recent article suggests that the quality of parent-toddler relationships could affect children's risk for obesity...what?! Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Let me explain.

In this fascinating study, the authors looked at the attachment relationship between parents and children. The attachment relationship is a special bond between parents and children. In short, it's based on the consistency with which you respond to your child- do you comfort her when she's upset? Do you pick him up when those precious arms are reaching for you? Do you snuggle her when she's sick? All of these behaviors foster the attachment relationship and send the following message to your child: "My parent will be there for me when I need her/him." They become securely attached.

Children who get this message are able to rely on their parents as a 'secure base.' That is, they are able to explore their world freely, knowing that mom and dad will be there as a secure base when come back from school/playground/church/upstairs. Sure, there will be a little separation anxiety, but it's always tough separating from your comfort, right?! The important point is that children who are securely attached are able to regulate.

But what happens when children don't become securely attached- when parental responsiveness is negative or inconsistent? Children may respond to environmental stress (going to school/playground/church - anywhere unfamiliar) with greater amounts of anxiety and fear). They could act out aggressively or refuse interaction all together- the classic flight or fight response. 

And what the authors of this study find is that the same areas of the brain that control stress response control appetite. In fact, children in the study who were insecurely attached were at a 30% increased risk for obesity, according to their BMI scores. The authors think that appetite control may be just one way children who receive inconsistent parenting respond to this sort of stress. 

Interesting, huh?


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