Children who act more aggressively may be more likely to gain excessive weight than those who are less aggressive, according to study findings presented in Obesity.
Earlier studies of the relationship between high BMI and negative externalizing behaviors, including aggression, in childhood yielded conflicting findings and raised questions about bidirectionality, according to study background.
“There is a particular need to elucidate the association between aggressive behavior and BMI in childhood,” Henning Tiemeier, MD, PhD, MA, Sumner and Esther Feldberg professor of maternal and child health in the department of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, and colleagues wrote. “Aggressive behaviors were shown to be the most common reasons for referral to child and adolescent mental health services, and they are substantially predictive of poorer long-term functioning and high societal costs.”
Tiemeier and colleagues analyzed data from three separate studies that measured aggression in children, the first dealing with children aged 6 to 10 years (n = 3,974; 50.4% girls), the second aged 7 to 10 years (n = 10,328; 51.2% girls) and the third aged 9 to 14 years (n = 1,462; 51.6% girls). BMI was calculated based on measurements taken by researchers in the first study and reported by mothers in the other two studies. Aggression was measured by the Child Behavior Checklist in all three studies, with the child’s mother completing the questionnaire. Answers were given on a 3-point scale, and higher scores equated to higher levels of aggression.
The researchers observed a “small association” between higher levels of aggression at age 6 years and increased BMI at age 10 years among children in the first study ( = 0.02; 95% CI, 0.00-0.04) as well as increased aggression at age 6 years and elevated fat mass index at age 10 years ( = 0.03; 95% CI, 0.01-0.05). Among children in the second study, a similar association was found between elevated aggression at age 7 years and increased BMI at age 10 years ( = 0.04; 95% CI, 0.02-0.06). The association was not found in the third study population, “although the effect estimate had a magnitude similar to those in the other two cohorts,” researchers wrote.
Researchers did not observe the opposite relationship: High BMI at an earlier age was not associated with aggressive behavior at a later age.
“Our findings suggest that aggressive behavior problems constitute one of the many contributing components of obesity in childhood,” the researchers wrote. “Although small in magnitude, the relatively modest effects obtained in the current study are of interest, as these associations might be indicative of one of the many likely pathways to increased weight and obesity later in life.” – by Phil Neuffer
Disclosure: Tiemeier reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.