Stressed Parents More Likely to Have Obese Children

Stressed mother
Stressed mother
Children of Latino parents with high stress levels are twice as likely to be obese.

Parental stress may play a role in a child’s weight, with 1 study showing that Latino parents with high levels of stress are twice as likely to have children with obesity.

In the study, which was presented at ObesityWeek 2015, researchers examined data from 473 Hispanic/Latino children and their caregivers enrolled in the Study of Latino Youth (SOL Youth). The analysis assessed the relationship between parental stress and child weight status. 

Results showed that obesity and chronic stress were both prevalent in this Latino population. Twenty-two percent of children were overweight, and 28% of children aged 8 to 16 years were obese. The researchers also found that 29% of these children’s parents reported high levels of stress.

“In addition to biological factors, psychosocial determinants are important in the evaluation of a child’s risk of obesity. Family and parental factors, such as chronic stress, appeared to be of relevance,” said study investigator Carmen Isasi, MD, PhD, who is with Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

The children and their parents in this study lived in the Bronx (New York City), Chicago, Miami, and San Diego. The researchers followed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to define child weight status, and assessed parental stress using the Chronic Stress Burden Scale, an 8-item measure of ongoing stressors in important life domains. Stress factors included having difficulties at work or difficulties in a relationship, among others.

In this study, half the children were girls, 55% were aged 12 years or older, and 73% were born in the 50 United States.

Prevalence of obesity in the children increased with the number of parental stress factors — from 20% among parents who experienced no stress to 34% among parents with 3 or more stress factors, according to the data.

After adjusting for age, sex, place of birth, and location, the researchers found that parents who experienced 3 or more chronic stressors were twice as likely to have children with obesity compared with parents who experienced no stress (odds ratio [OR]=2.13; 95% CI, 1.2-3.9).

“Endocrinologists who are evaluating a child who might be at risk of obesity may want to consider the psychosocial aspects of the family, such as stress in the parent, if they want a more complete risk assessment,” Dr Isasi told Endocrinology Advisor

“They may want to consider ways to address chronic stress in the parents in their preventive efforts.”

However, this study has limitations, and further research is warranted to examine the causes and the optimal preventive strategies to address the parental stress and childhood obesity associations, according to Dr Isai. She noted that these relationships also need to be studied in other populations.

Margarita Teran-Garcia, MD, PhD, who is at-large Mexico Council member for The Obesity Society, said these new study findings should encourage clinicians to consider high stress levels as a warning sign for developing obesity not only in the adult patient, but also in the patient’s entire family. She explained that special attention should be paid to adult patients who report experiencing high stress levels in this population. 

Providers may also want to consider behavioral counseling as one measure for obesity prevention and treatment, Dr Teran-Garcia added.

“I am not surprised by the findings. However, I am not sure all clinicians are well trained to address this issue,” Dr Teran-Garcia told Endocrinology Advisor

“It will require that clinicians have tools to explore this issue and have established a rapport with the family to provide tools to cope with stress. Addressing these issues will take more than the few minutes dedicated to patient attention, unfortunately. I hope this changes by creating awareness on treating obesity seriously.”


  1. Isai C, Jung M, Perreira K, et al. Abstract T-P-3745-DT. Is parental stress associated with obesity in their offspring? Findings from the Study of Latino Youth (SOL Youth). Presented at ObesityWeek; November 2-6, 2015; Los Angeles, CA.