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2 January 2012
Motherly love linked to teen obesity
by George Atkinson

Research suggests the quality of the relationship between a mother and her infant could set-up that child for obesity in adolescence. The study, in the journal Pediatrics, found the lower the quality of the relationship in terms of the child's emotional security, the higher the risk that a child would be obese by the age of 15.

Among the toddlers studied who had the lowest-quality emotional relationships with their mothers, more than a quarter were obese as teens, compared to 13 percent of adolescents who had closer bonds with their mothers in their younger years.

The new work suggests the areas of the brain that control emotions and stress responses, as well as appetite and energy balance, could be working together to influence the likelihood that a child will be obese.

Lead author of the study, Sarah Anderson, from Ohio State University, said that the findings suggest that obesity prevention efforts should examine strategies to improve the mother-child bond and not focus exclusively on eating and exercise. She specifically identified maternal sensitivity - a mother's ability to recognize her child's emotional state and respond with comfort, consistency and warmth - as a key factor. "The sensitivity a mother displays in interacting with her child may be influenced by factors she can't necessarily control. Societally, we need to think about how we can support better-quality maternal-child relationships because that could have an impact on child health," she added.

Anderson suggests that this association between childhood experiences and teen obesity has origins in the brain. The limbic system in the brain controls responses to stress as well as the sleep/wake cycle, hunger and thirst, and a variety of metabolic processes, mostly through the regulation of hormones. "Sensitive parenting increases the likelihood that a child will have a secure pattern of attachment and develop a healthy response to stress," Anderson explained. "A well-regulated stress response could in turn influence how well children sleep and whether they eat in response to emotional distress."

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Source: Ohio State University

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