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Maternal stress causes overweight children
More and more overweight people live in Germany. Many children are too fat too. Researchers have now identified a new risk factor for developing obesity in infancy: the stress of the mother.
More and more children are too fat
Health experts repeatedly warn against underestimating the risks of being overweight. Childhood and adolescent obesity can have dangerous health consequences, including increasing the risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes later in life. Nevertheless, the number of obese children worldwide has increased significantly in recent years. In this country too, many children are much too fat. German researchers have now identified the perceived stress of the mother in the child's first year as a risk factor for developing obesity in infancy.
Risk factors for obesity
In Germany, almost ten percent of children between the ages of two and six are overweight, of which around three percent are even obese.
High-calorie diet and lack of exercise are known risk factors for obesity.
"Maternal stress is also suspected of contributing to the development of obesity in children," explains nutritionist Dr. Kristin Junge from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig in a message.
"Especially the time window during pregnancy and in the first years of life is very sensitive in child development to external influences that can lead to illnesses or overweight," said the expert.
And this can also include psychological influences, such as maternal stress.
Effects primarily on girls' weight gain
UFZ researchers, together with scientists from the Berlin Institute of Health Research (BIH) and colleagues from Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, have now found that the mother's perceived stress in the child's first year of life promotes obesity in infancy.
As the researchers write in the journal "BMC Public Health", maternal stress affects girls' weight development in particular and leads to a long-term impact.
In order to arrive at their results, the research team evaluated data from 498 mother-child pairs from the LiNA mother-child study.
The scientists determined the children's body mass index (BMI) from the information on height and weight and standardized it on age and gender.
They recorded the perceived stress of the mothers during pregnancy and during the first two years of the child's life using validated questionnaires that included the topics of worries and fears, tension, general satisfaction and dealing with daily requirements.
Then they relate the two data sets to one another.
Stressed mothers are more likely to have overweight children than relaxed mothers
"We compared the data on the perceived stress of mothers during pregnancy and in the child's first two years of life with the development of the BMI of the children up to the age of five and checked whether there is a connection," said biochemist Dr. Beate Leppert, first author of the study, which now works at the University of Bristol.
"We clearly saw that the mother's perceived stress during the child's first year of life is linked to the child's weight development in the first five years of life," explains Irina Lehmann in a communication from the Berlin Institute for Health Research.
“Stressed mothers are more likely to have overweight children than relaxed mothers,” says the researcher.
"The impact of maternal stress on girls is particularly noticeable," adds Saskia Trump.
Studies have shown that boys may better compensate for mothers' stress. Maternal stress had no effect on the weight of the children during pregnancy or during the children's second year of life.
"The first year of life appears to be a sensitive phase and a defining factor in the tendency to become overweight," says Kristin Junge from UFZ, one of the two first authors of the study.
"Special attention should therefore be paid to the mother's condition during this time," she adds.
Causes of maternal stress
"In order to find out why the mothers were stressed during pregnancy and in the first two years of their lives, we looked at the data again closely," reports Beate Leppert.
"In particular, we took a close look at the living conditions of the mothers."
In doing so, they discovered that stressed mothers were more likely than unstressed mothers to live in a simple living environment, were more likely to be exposed to noise and traffic, and had lower household incomes on average.
Do not leave stressed mothers alone
"With our study we want to draw attention to the problem of stressed mothers," says Irina Lehmann. "In no way should you leave them alone with their problem."
"Midwives, gynecologists, pediatricians and family doctors should be particularly alert to signs of stress in the first year after the birth of the child," said Junge.
“There are already many good help offers for young mothers, but many don't know about them. If you start here, you could help the mothers and thus possibly save their children from becoming overweight later on, ”explains Saskia Trump.
In future research work, the team wants to investigate which other risk factors can shape children's weight development and which mechanisms are involved in the long-term malfunctioning of the metabolism. (ad)