Chronic stress and obesity in children
Childhood obesity has been prevalent for a number of years despite programs designed to educate children and families on healthy diets and activities. Multiple disciplines have reported chronic stress can interfere with normal neuroendocrine functions in the body which include energy balance. Research into alternate mechanisms contributing to childhood obesity is just beginning to include psychosocial factors’ and their influence on biology. Healthy coping strategies can reduce the effects of stress and influence perceptions of what is stressful. Warm, secure relationships with parents, family connectedness, and a secure stable environment all contribute to the buffering of chronic stress as well as promote the ability to cope with stress. Through the years, changes in the family environment through divorce, single parenthood, and cohabitation may play a role in the child’s ability to cope with stress. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore relationships between the child’s perceptions of chronic stress, coping strategies, family connectedness, family characteristics, and weight in 4th and 5th grade children.
This study used a cross sectional and correlational design. The conceptual framework guiding this study was the Bio-Psycho-Social Model for Health integrating the three dimensions (biological, psychological, and sociological) as they relate to obesity in children. Well established instruments were used to measure chronic stress, coping, family connectedness, and weight.
Results did not reveal a relationship between chronic stress and children’s weights. The ‘frequency the family sat down to eat dinner together’ was significantly related to weight: the more dinners together the lower the body mass indices and accounted for 14.7% variance in children’s body mass indices. Frequency of family meals was also correlated with the frequency of cooking dinner and negative trending of both ‘frequency’ and ‘helpfulness’ of coping strategies: possibly suggesting less need for the coping strategies. Parents’ education was positively correlated with more sleep on school nights for children.
The findings suggest the importance of family time together is related to lower body mass indices in children.