Stress and anxiety is associated with obesity in adults, but it can also instigate obesity in the children of severely stressed adults. In fact, new research demonstrates that extremely frazzled Latino parents are nearly twice as likely to raise obese children.  

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded the study, which was presented on Friday, Nov. 6, at the Obesity Society Annual Meeting at ObesityWeek 2015 in Los Angeles. Carmen Isasi, MD, PhD, from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, led the team of researchers who examined data from the Study of Latino Youth (SOL Youth).

According to the State of Obesity report published in 2014, 77 percent of Latino adults and 38.9 percent of Latino children (ages 2 to 19) are obese, compared to 67.2 percent of white adults and 28.5 percent of white children. Also, while just 3.5 percent of white children ages 2 to 5 are obese. Additionally, Latinos experience higher levels of work-related stress, social anxiety and depression.

Dr. Isasi and fellow researchers examined data from the SOL Youth study, establishing the connection between weight and stress. The cohort study involved Latino parents and their children living in Chicago, Miami, San Diego and the Bronx. When compiling data, the research team consulted the Chronic Stress Burden Scale when assessing parental stress, and referred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guideline when defining weight status. Work-related stress or relationship related stress were among the many chronic stress factors. As the number of parental stress factors increased, as did the prevalence of obesity among the children of highly stresses family.

"Obesity and chronic stress were both prevalent among this Latino population, with more than one-quarter (28 percent) of children ages 8-16 with obesity, and nearly one-third (29 percent) of their parents reporting high levels of stress," said Dr. Isasi, according to a press release. "This study is among the first of its kind to show that parental stress is a risk factor for childhood obesity among Latinos, and adds to the understanding of family influences on child weight status."

Parents who experience no stress had a 20 percent chance of producing an obese child, but that number jumps to 34 percent if the parents endure three or more stress factors. The investigators found that parents who experience three or more chronic stressors were twice as likely as unstressed parents to have an obese child.

The research should encourage health care practitioners and clinicians to regard stress levels as a warning for possible obesity in adults and children. Providers should pay added attention to extremely stressed adults, encouraging behavior counseling, treatment and obesity prevision. Though the research promises to be helpful, it failed to examine cause or preventative measures. Future research will explore the cause behind the relationship between childhood obesity and parental stress.