A new study has warned that toddlers who do not have a secure emotional relationship with their parents, and particularly their mothers, could be at increased risk for obesity by age 4 1/2.
The study suggests that children at age 24 months who show insecure attachment patterns have at least 30 percent higher odds for obesity by age 4 1/2.
Toddlers who are insecurely attached tend to have experienced negative or unpredictable parenting, and may respond to stress with extreme anger, fear or anxiety, or avoid or refuse interactions with others.
"A novel approach to preventing obesity is to help children develop healthy ways to regulate their emotions and behaviors when they encounter psychological stress," said Sarah Anderson, assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.
The findings suggest that overlapping regulatory areas of the brain that govern emotional and stress responses, as well as control appetite and energy balance, could provide a stronger influence than previously thought on the likelihood that a young child will be obese.
"Our hypothesis is that secure attachment could reduce the risk for childhood obesity by preventing frequent or exaggerated stress responses from disrupting the normal functioning and development of the systems that affect energy balance and body weight," Anderson said.
Children's stress responses and emotion regulation are formed in early childhood in the context of parent-child interactions, and one indicator that the child has developed healthy emotion regulation and stress response is secure attachment," she added.
The research is published in a recent issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.