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Researchers analyzed data from more than 4,700 American teens born between 1975 and 1990 to assess the effects of three specific sources of family stress: financial problems, a mother's poor health, and family disruption.
"Experiencing family stress -- specifically family disruption and financial stress -- repeatedly throughout childhood was associated with overweight or obesity by the time adolescent girls turned 18," study author Daphne Hernandez, an assistant professor in the department of health and human performance at the University of Houston, said in a university news release.
Only one family stress point -- a mother's poor health -- was associated with overweight or obesity in boys by the time they turned 18, according to the study published in the April issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.
"Overall, the findings suggest that female and male adolescents respond differently to stress. This study extends our knowledge of stress and obesity by focusing on the family environment over time. By knowing the types of stressors that influence female and male adolescent weight gain, we can tailor specific social services to be included in obesity prevention programs," Hernandez said.
Currently, school-based obesity prevention programs focus on healthy eating and exercise, which yield only short-term benefits, according to Hernandez.
"These programs need to take a broader approach to combating obesity by helping families experiencing these kinds of stressors find access to mental health programs, financial assistance or family counseling," she said.
"Developing strategies to help with family stressors during childhood may help children maintain healthy weight into adulthood," Hernandez concluded.
Although the study found an association between family stressors and weight in childhood, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: University of Houston, news release, April 6, 2015