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Mother-toddler bond may influence teen obesity

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Teens are more likely to be obese if they had a poor emotional relationship with their mother when they were toddlers, according to a new study.

The findings echo previous research showing that toddlers who didn't have close emotional ties with their parents were more likely to be obese by the time they were 4.5 years old.

In the latest study, researchers examined U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development data collected from hundreds of families who lived in nine states and had children who were born in 1991.

The analysis showed that the children's risk of obesity at age 15 was highest among those who had the lowest-quality emotional relationship with their mothers when they were toddlers, the Ohio State University researchers said.

More than one-quarter of the toddlers who had the lowest-quality relationships with their mothers were obese as teens, compared with 13 percent of those who had closer bonds with their mothers in their early years, according to the report published online and in the January print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

These and previous findings indicate that the risk of obesity may be affected by areas of the brain that control emotions and stress responses working together with those that control appetite and energy balance, the investigators explained.

The authors suggested that obesity prevention efforts should include strategies to improve the mother-child bond, as well as promoting healthier eating and exercise.

"It is possible that childhood obesity could be influenced by interventions that try to improve the emotional bonds between mothers and children rather than focusing only on children's food intake and activity," lead author Sarah Anderson, an assistant professor of epidemiology, said in an Ohio State University news release.

"The sensitivity a mother displays in interacting with her child may be influenced by factors she can't necessarily control. Societally, we need to think about how we can support better-quality maternal-child relationships, because that could have an impact on child health," Anderson added.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about overweight and obesity in children.

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