“We need to better understand the relationship between childhood obesity and mental health,” says lead author Amanda Hughes, Senior Research Associate in Epidemiology at the Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol, UK. “This requires teasing apart the contributions of child and parent genetics and the environmental factors affecting the whole family.”
Hughes and colleagues looked at genetic and mental health data from 41,000 eight-year-old children and their parents from the Norwegian Mother, Father, and Child Cohort Study and the Norwegian Medical Birth Registry.
They examined the association between children’s body mass index (BMI)a weight-to-height ratioand symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD. They also took parental genetics and BMI into consideration to help isolate the effects of the children’s heredity from the influence of other factors that affect the entire family. The situation is unclear. Obesity may exacerbate mental health issues or vice versa. Alternatively, a youngster’s environment may contribute to both obesity and mental and behavioral issues.
The study discovered that a child’s BMI did not affect their anxiety levels. In addition, there was inconsistent research regarding whether a child’s BMI influenced their depression or ADHD symptoms.
“At least for this age group, the impact of a child’s own BMI appears small. For older children and adolescents, it could be more important,” says Neil Davies, Professor at University College London, UK.
When the researchers investigated the effect of the parents’ BMI on the children’s mental health, they discovered minimal evidence that the parents’ BMI influenced the children’s ADHD or anxiety symptoms. The findings revealed that having a mother with a higher BMI was associated with depressive symptoms in children, but there was a minimal indication of any relationship between the child’s mental health and the father’s BMI.
“Overall, the influence of a parent’s BMI on a child’s mental health seems to be limited. As a result, interventions to reduce parents’ BMIs are unlikely to have widespread benefits for children’s mental health,” says Alexandra Havdahl, Research Professor at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Norway.
“Our results suggest that interventions designed to reduce child obesity are unlikely to make big improvements in child mental health. On the other hand, policies that target social and environmental factors linked to higher body weights and that target poor child mental health directly may be more beneficial,” Hughes concludes.
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