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The Obesity Link between Mother and Child

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The Obesity Link between Mother and Child

— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.

The bond between a mother and child is unique, and children often adopt their mother’s behaviors. For parents with obesity, this can lead to children with obesity.

The bond between a mother and her child is unique, even as it grows and develops throughout their lives. Small children cling to their mothers and often learn to share mannerisms, speech, and other developmental attributes. This can include eating habits which, in the case of many parents with obesity, lead to children with obesity.

Parents’ Influence Extends Beyond Dietary Choices

More than 19 percent of two- to 19-year-olds have obesity. In another blog, about the influence of parents’ weight on their children’s weight, we noted that “if one parent has obesity, the child is 50 percent more likely to have obesity; if both parents have obesity, that likelihood rises to 80 percent.” It is important to note, however, that although diet plays a significant role, it is not the only influential factor. A recent study looked at how “familial psychosocial assets and risks” in infancy and early childhood could be regulated to predict change in body mass index from age two through 15 years. Familial assets and risks include the home environment, mother’s emotional warmth, and the child’s ability to self-regulate.1

Findings from the study, which was based on analysis of more than 1,000 mothers and their children, indicated that positive assets (i.e., good home environment, emotional warmth, and self-regulation) resulted in a reduced risk of childhood obesity. These findings held even when risks were present, such as poverty, single-parent homes, and depression in the mother. The exception was among children with severe obesity. Although they did not have greater risks than other children, they had fewer assets. The authors noted that while risks such as poverty are difficult to overcome, it is still possible to build other assets, such as positive home environment, which may help reduce the risk factors.

This study both supports and distinguishes itself from other research on childhood obesity because of its emphasis on non-food factors. As such, it offers an alternate route to potentially changing the current paradigm of familial obesity. Still, modeling healthy eating and other behaviors plays a strong role in the habits and activities children observe and mirror. Parents who prepare and select nutritious meals and snacks, and spend time outdoors or engaging in physical activity sends both direct and subtle messages to their children about a positive lifestyle.

A Very Low Calorie Diet as a Step to Reduce Obesity

Some mothers who have struggled with weight for the greater part of her life may need assistance to initiate weight loss and change her lifestyle. Under medical guidance, a Very Low Calorie Diet can provide the weight loss and motivation needed to make a change that will not only help with weight, but also the myriad of heath conditions that typically are associated with obesity.

Awareness of all of the variables that can affect their children’s weight is critical knowledge for parents. Parents who have experienced and know firsthand the physical, psychological, emotional, and social implications of obesity, can take great comfort knowing that providing a safe, happy, and healthy home benefits their children in many ways. Providing them with adequate and accurate information and options can encourage them to make necessary changes to help themselves and their children.


1. Family Psychosocial Assets, Child Behavioral Regulation, and Obesity

About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.

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