Contact: Gwen Tindula, M.S.
For Release: Immediately
The urgent U.S. public health problem of childhood obesity takes a major toll on Hispanic youngsters: 26% of Hispanic children and adolescents are obese compared to 14% of whites, federal data show. And although home environment and their mothers’ mental health obviously have a huge impact on kids, there’s been hardly any research on how they might contribute to or prevent Hispanic children from putting on unhealthy extra pounds.
Now a pioneering study suggests that Mexican-American children are more likely to have a lower, healthier Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure of overweight or obesity, if their mothers are responsive, report fewer depressive symptoms and more social support, or provide a richer learning environment at home. The study, published online ahead of print, will appear in a forthcoming issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, journal of the American Psychosomatic Society. It’s one of the first long-term studies, and with the longest follow-up, on how maternal mental health and home environment may be linked to Hispanic children’s BMI and biological factors that respond to being overweight or obese.
Participants were 326 Mexican-American children living in the agricultural area of Salinas Valley, CA, followed from their mothers’ pregnancies through age 14. The moms’ depression symptom scores were high-50% at risk of clinical depression when their children were one-year-olds-but dropped to about one-quarter at risk during later childhood. The mothers also filled out questionnaires on how much social support they were feeling. Observers rated the home environment at seven different time points across childhood. They considered how involved and responsive mothers were with their children, as well as the toys, books and learning materials at home. Children also were weighed and measured at several ages. The study did not include fathers.
“More depressive symptoms, less social support and less home enrichment all were associated with more obesity later on in the children,” says study coauthor Nina Holland, Ph.D., of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley.
At several ages, the study also measured children’s levels of adiponectin, a protein secreted by fat cells-more of this protein is a biological sign of lower BMI, and less is linked to a higher BMI, says lead study author and Ph.D. candidate Gwen Tindula, M.S. The study found that fewer maternal depressive symptoms and a more enriched home environment in earlier childhood linked with more adiponectin and a lower BMI at age 14.
Past studies have found that moms who are stressed or show symptoms of depression arrange less physical activity for their children and provide less healthy diets, notes Tindula. That could partly account for children’s greater risk of obesity. Also, kids may feel more stress if their moms are less responsive to them and feel little support, offering fewer stimulating activities at home. This stress can affect adiponectin levels and hormones that influence metabolism, increasing the risk of obesity, says Holland. So addressing a mom’s depression and her needs for support around parenting could help to lower the unhealthy obesity levels in Hispanic children, Tindula notes.
With many families lacking insurance, “We need a proactive approach from doctors and nurse practitioners in community clinics that are culturally sensitive,” Holland says. Public policy changes also are needed to address these under-the-radar social contributors to the childhood obesity crisis.
Study Link: http://dx.doi.orq/10.1097/PSY.0000000000000663
The American Psychosomatic Society (APS) (http://www.psychosomatic.org), founded in 1943, is an international multidisciplinary academic society that organizes an annual scientific meeting and educational programs. Psychosomatic Medicine is its scientific journal. The membership of over 700 is composed of academic scientists and clinicians in medicine, psychiatry, epidemiology, health psychology and allied health services. The mission of the APS is “to advance and integrate the scientific study of biological, psychological, behavioral and social factors in health and disease.”