Supportive parenting reduces children’s risk for obesity, study finds
Children with positive early interactions with their mother were at a reduced risk for obesity in childhood, a study published in Pediatrics found.
Positive parenting and other “psychosocial assets,” including a child’s ability to self-regulate their behavior in infancy/toddlerhood and early childhood, buffered the negative effects of early adversity and lessened the risks for obesity from ages 2 to 15 years, according to Brandi Y. Rollins, PhD, an assistant research professor of biobehavioral health at Pennsylvania State University, and colleagues.
Rollins said other research has uncovered contributing factors to childhood obesity but not what hinders its development.
“Often some of those risk factors for obesity are very difficult to modify,” Rollins told Healio. “We were interested in learning what things were protective, what things hinder the development of childhood obesity, what, in a sense, creates and contributes to a level of obesity resilience.”
Rollins and colleagues analyzed data on 1,077 mother-child dyads provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development for measures of familial assets, including maternal sensitivity, responsive parenting, the enrichment of the home environment and children’s self-behavioral regulation.
“We wanted to know how those impacted these trajectories of growth that we have previously identified,” Rollins said. “Did they decrease the likelihood of children developing obesity and severe obesity?”
The researchers found that the greater these assets were at the familial and child level, the less likely the children were to have an obesogenic growth trajectory. Rollins said the power of the familial assets’ effects was a surprise to her.
“It's so easy sometimes to focus on the child-level factors,” Rollins said. “It is suggesting that family assets matter a lot and that it’s not too late, that they continue to impact children’s growth into childhood.”
It is important for providers to support parents and show them how to provide an enriching environment, she said.
“If general parenting is having this much of an impact, then we have to figure out how do we support parents in creating ... a more enriched and structured home environment,” Rollins said.