- Unpredictable childhood puts the individual at increased risk of obesity later in life
- People who had unpredictable childhood experiences tend to overeat
- Adult obesity can be prevented by providing stable and predictable environments for children
Individuals who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues like divorce, crime or frequent moves are at a higher risk of becoming obese in adulthood, reveals a new study conducted by a Florida State University researcher.
It was found that people who had an unpredictable childhood tend to overeat, than those who experienced a stable childhood, says Jon Maner, Professor of Psychology. This study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
‘Apart from reducing stress, creating a stable and predictable environment during childhood prevents obesity later in life.’
Unpredictable Environment In Childhood
Marner said: "Experiencing an unpredictable environment in childhood sensitizes people to the idea that it's difficult to plan for the future because if you don't know what's around the next corner, you live for the now, and end up focusing on short-term rather than long-term goals and they're not good at delaying gratification."
Previous researches have showed clear evidences that low socioeconomic status and obesity were associated. These studies could not identify the root causes of the problem, but concluded in general that too much stress in families can lead to a wide variety of negative outcomes for children later in life.
"Life History Theory" from behavioral science is an important, well-established perspective, which is used to predict a wide range of behaviors in an individual. Behaviors like a person's ability to parent and make financial decisions can be predicted. This research marks the first which has taken up this approach to study obesity.
Life History Theory has been deeply rooted in the idea that individuals have limited amount of reproductive energy in their lives. The amount of structure they experience during childhood influences the way they use this reproductive energy.
Maner said that people who had unpredictable childhoods lead a "fast-life-history strategy" when they become adults. These individuals live for the now, have children at an earlier age, spend money rather than saving and seek immediate gratification.
In contrast, predictable childhoods lead a "slow-life-history strategy." These individuals teach that planning for the future is good and as adults, they plan long-term goals, have children at an older age, save money for retirement and are more likely to invest in education.
Maner said that what you can eat now makes more sense than when you don't know where the next meal is going to come from.
But, in the case of people with a slow-life-history strategy, they were found to be more inclined to listen to the needs of their body and eat based on their current needs. These individuals feel that the future is more certain and they know where their next meal is going to come from.
According to the data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults and 17 percent of youth (ages 2-19) were found to be obese.
Ways To Prevent Obesity
Obesity is considered a serious, costly problem by the agency, as it causes heart disease, stroke, cancer, liver disease, type 2 diabetes and other health ailments.
Researchers and health professionals are in an urgency to identify the behavioral factors causing obesity which are causing these negative effects, said Maner.
Maner's research aims to identify ways to prevent obesity. While, previous researches have encouraged families to reduce stress without giving any clear tips. He also said that his research points out some valuable prevention ideas, that it's not only about reducing stress, rather it's more about creating structure and predictability for children.
Maner said: "For example, have family meals at the same time each night or bedtime rituals every day. Routines teach children to have expectations that, when met, result in a sense of certainty and structure. Theoretically, that feeling of predictability instills a slower-life-history strategy, which may reduce obesity in adulthood."
- Jon K. Maner el al., Implications of life-history strategies for obesity." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017).