Higher levels of stress among mothers were linked with lower levels of physical activity in children, according to findings from a systematic literature review.
“Childhood obesity continues to be a pressing public health issue, and behavioral health factors play important risk or protective roles,” Sydney Grace O’Connor, of the department of preventive medicine at Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, and colleagues wrote, noting that few children meet the national guidelines for physical activity. “Given the significant control and influence that parents exert on their children’s lives, examination of the role that parents, specifically mothers, may play in children’s weight-related behaviors merits continued examination.”
The researchers gathered studies related to maternal stress and childhood physical activity using three databases: PubMed, Web of Science and PsycINFO. They included 14 articles in a qualitative review. O’Connor and colleagues excluded studies that measured only maternal stress levels or weight-related behaviors in children, focused only on obesity outcomes, or measured associations between stress and weight-related behaviors within one individual. Six studies (43%) either focused on or centered exclusively on low-income populations in the United States, while three (21%) were conducted outside the U.S. Participants were predominantly white, although some were Hispanic or black.
Among the studies, the researchers identified 25 different associations between maternal stress and children’s weight: three between maternal stress and children’s healthy dietary intake, six between maternal stress and children’s unhealthy dietary intake, seven between maternal stress and physical activity in children and nine between maternal stress and sedentary behavior in children.
Overall, O’Connor and colleagues wrote, there was “little evidence” to suggest maternal stress was associated with children’s healthy or unhealthy dietary intake. However, five of seven cross-sectional studies identified a negative association between maternal stress and children’s physical activity. One study indicated mixed results, while another showed a positive association.
The researchers acknowledged their study was limited by the wide variety of outcomes in the studies.
“Overall, the present review found mixed evidence for an association between maternal stress and children’s weight-related behaviors; higher maternal stress tended to be consistently linked with lower child physical activity and higher sedentary behavior but not consistently associated with dietary intake of healthy or unhealthy foods,” O’Connor and colleagues wrote. “Future research should examine the connection between maternal stress and children’s weight-related behaviors with careful consideration of potential moderators, and prioritizing longitudinal study design along with high-resolution, real-time data collection techniques.” – by Andy Polhamus
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.