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Maternal attachment and obesity: is there a link?

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The relationship you have with your own parents could predict your own child's risk for obesity, a University of Illinois study suggests.

Scientists say that a person's attachment style can affect how he or she responds to negative emotions, and this new study found a link between insecure attachment in parents and their children's consumption of unhealthy foods and tendency toward disordered eating patterns.

"If your mother regularly punished or dismissed your anger, anxiety, or sadness instead of being sensitive to your distress and giving you strategies for handling those feelings, you may be insecurely attached and parenting your children in the same way," said Kelly Bost, Ph.D., a professor of human development and family studies. "A child who doesn't learn to regulate his emotions may in turn develop eating patterns that put him at risk for obesity."

Anxiety and uncertainty

The study analyzed 497 primary caregivers of children between the ages of two and three. These parents or caregivers answered questions about the nature of their relationships, their parenting habits and how they measured depression and anxiety.

Parents who didn't have secure attachments as children (because their parents weren't protective or responsive) were at a greater risk for some of the factors indicated in how parenting can affect childhood obesity.

Bost elaborated:

The study found that insecure parents were significantly more likely to respond to their children's distress by becoming distressed themselves or dismissing their child's emotion. For example, if a child went to a birthday party and was upset because of a friend's comment there, a dismissive parent might tell the child not to be sad, to forget about it. Or the parent might even say: 'Stop crying and acting like a baby or you're never going over again.'

Punishment doesn't help

The study also found that punishing or dismissing a child's negative emotions was related to more comfort feeding, where a child eats to cope with difficult feelings, and also fewer family meals and more TV time.

Health professionals who work with both parents and children can use the results of the research as a basis for helping kids deal with negative emotions like anger or sadness, said Bost.

"That means helping them describe what they're feeling and working on problem-solving strategies with them," she concluded.

Source: Science Daily