Family stress may make kids fat: study
Last Updated: 2009-01-21 11:04:36
-0400 (Reuters Health)
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Living
in a stressful household may raise a child's risk of becoming obese, according to findings from a study of Swedish families.
Compared with 5- to 6-year-old
children living in families with low stress levels, age-matched children from "high-stress" families had about twice the risk for obesity, the study team found.
"Families can probably deal
with some stress or stressors, but not with several at the same time," Felix-Sebastian Koch, a doctoral student from Linköping University, told Reuters
When stress becomes too much for the family to handle, Koch said, "children are at higher risk to develop childhood obesity."
Koch and colleagues evaluated
stress levels in 7443 Swedish families from the time their children were born through the children's current age of 5 to 6 years.
52% of the children were boys.
At the later assessment, 4.2%
of the children were obese, according to a report of the study in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Over the study period, parents
reported various "stressors" from serious life events such as family accident or illness, death, divorce, unemployment, or exposure to violence. They also reported stressors from parenting difficulties or spouse relationship issues; a lack of social support; and worries about children's health and development.
Koch's group defined high
stress families as those reporting stress in at least two of these four areas.
As noted, results showed that
children from these high stress families, compared with children from low-stress families (i.e., those reporting stressors in just one area or no stress) were at significantly greater risk for becoming obese.
"Stress probably interacts with other factors to worsen the problem of childhood obesity," Koch said. But it is definitely
not the only factor associated with childhood obesity, he added.
However, since these findings
suggest family stress may contribute to childhood obesity, it is important for families experiencing high stress to seek support, Koch and colleagues conclude.
SOURCE: The Journal of Pediatrics, December 2008
source site: click here
Family Stress Linked to Kids' Illnesses
By Judith Groch, Senior Writer, MedPage Today
March 06, 2007
ROCHESTER, N.Y., March 6 - Chronic family stress was associated with an increase in febrile illness in children, researchers here reported.
Your dictionary definition of:
pertaining to or marked by fever; feverish.
In a 3 year study
of 169 children, elevated family stress was associated with an 11% increase in total illnesses and a 36% increase in febrile illnesses compared with unstressed
children, according to a report in the March issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
Most of the children's
- upper respiratory tract infections (159)
- followed by gastrointestinal tract infections (51)
- sinus infections (25)
An unanticipated finding was
that natural killer cell function increased in children whose parents reported more chronic stress (estimate, 0.15; 95% CI, 0.05-0.26), added Mary Caserta, M.D., of the University of Rochester and colleagues.
with findings for adults in whom stress decreases natural killer cytotoxicity.
Previous research had linked impaired parental function and family
stress to negative effects on children's emotional and social functioning.
The present findings broaden the evidence to include objective health and biological indicators showing
a possible negative effect on children's immunity and susceptibility to illness, Dr. Caserta and colleagues said.
Elevated parental psychiatric symptoms occurring along with family adverse events were associated
with more total illnesses (rate ratio, 1.11; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.00-1.22)
and more febrile illnesses (rate ratio, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.13-1.64) in children.
Natural killer cell function was enhanced in children whose parents reported more chronic stress (estimate, 0.15; 95% CI, 0.05-0.26).
This step-up in
immune response was not associated with short-term changes in stress, suggesting that family stress extending for longer periods may have a more consistent influence on immune function in children, the researchers said.
The study included
169 children (ages five to 10, mean age seven) and their parents (mean age 35). Of the participating parents, 158 (93.5%) were women, and most
(89.4%) were mothers of the children.
The children were
recruited from 2001 to 2003 from a population already participating in a study of childhood infections at the University's
Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong. The study involved seven visits about six months apart. Children's blood samples were
obtained for assays every six months.
During the one-year reporting
period following the second visit, the researchers found that the number of illnesses reported by parents ranged from zero
to 10 (median two). The number of febrile illnesses ranged from 0 to six. During the follow-up, 2% of the children did not
have a febrile illness, 37.3% had one or two, and 7.1% had three or more, the researchers reported.
Parental psychiatric symptoms, included depression and anxiety, negative mood and dysfunctional behavior, parents' relationship with children, and their response to parenting responsibilities, as measured on the 51-item Brief Symptom Inventory.
In addition, parents reported on external family stress events, such as exposure to violence and unemployment, using the Stressful Life Events checklist.
stress was associated with a rate ratio of 1.11 (95% confidence interval 1.00 to 1.22) for total illnesses in their children
and a rate ratio of 1.36 (CI, 1.13-1.64) for febrile illness, the researchers reported.
In a year-and-a
half, parental stress was associated with an alteration in children's immune function. Mean natural killer cell function varied from 4.3 to 4.6,
with an overall range from 0.4 to 44.2.
One single individual
variable was significantly associated with an increase in natural killer cytotoxicity at 18 months of follow-up: family psychosocial
adversity, which outdid parent-child stress. The mean score on the Stressful Life Events checklist was associated with an increased natural killer cell function (estimate
0.02), the researchers said.
Studies of adults,
especially those over age 55, have shown diminished natural killer cell activity during chronic stress, suggesting that this decrease may be age dependent and present only in older adults.
The findings of
this study are in keeping with a previous small study that showed an increase in natural killer cell activity in depressed
subjects. Levels of natural killer cell function in the current study were not associated with rates of illnesses or alteration
in natural killer cell function.
It is possible that children's
immune systems are still developing, or that other, as yet unspecified deficiencies in immune function, promote a compensatory
response of natural killer cell activity, Dr. Caserta said.
The study's limitations
included a lack of generalizability as the cohort had a large proportion of low-income families recruited through emergency
departments. Also, children's illnesses were recorded by parents without physician or laboratory confirmation, and even though
all families received thermometers, not all parents recorded temperatures consistently.
of children using more in-depth measures of the psychological-behavioral interaction between parents and their children are
necessary to elucidate the specific mechanisms linking family stress with children's health," the researchers said.
In addition, future investigations
using more refined indexes of specific aspects of children's immune function and the types of illnesses responsible for the
increase in disease burden are needed, they concluded.
Children & Stress - By Laura Silva Quesada
As with most adults,
any major change in a child's life can be a cause of stress. Yet, the child has little or no resources to handle the stress they're experiencing.
Events like the
birth of a sibling or the parent's divorcing can cause tremendous stress. Stress can also be caused by a move to a new home, a death of a relative or a pet, or illness.
on a first-hand basis, or a natural disaster is extremely stressful. Sometimes, just hearing about such events or watching them on TV can also produce stress and anxiety.
The same is true when
children live with very strict parents who impose severe and frequent punishments. Some children experience great stress when parents go on a vacation or are hospitalized due to illness and they're separated from the parents for more than
a few days.
Pressuring a child to succeed can also impose great stress on the child. Parents need to be more aware not to create stress for children unconsciously by comparing them to other kids, or siblings, or by pushing them to make high grades, attend
a top college, or be a star athlete.
Stress can also contribute to lowering a child's attention, tolerance and their ability to think and learn. Resistance to separation from a parent is often a result. Medical and nutritional causes must be ruled out before
the child can be accurately diagnosed as reacting to accumulated stress.
a young child can't always clearly articulate what they're experiencing, we must rely and become very sensitive to their actions and behaviors.
Signs of stress
- Impulsive behavior
- Being quiet and withdrawn
- Lack of appetite
- Sleep problems
- Academic problems
- Relationship problems
- Stomach aches
- Relapses in toilet habits
- Frequent illness
children experience as they grow has the potential of being impressed deeply in their brain and mind and will determine
much of how the rest of their lives will flow.
remarkable in that they can often overcome stress through play, fantasizing, laughter, crying and a loving supportive environment where they're unconditionally accepted.
can teach their children new resources to best handle stressful situations; resources that can be reinforced positively through time and that the parents also abide by are learned
quickly by children. Children love to model their parents
above all others.
What Parents Can Do
- Figure out the cause of the
stress and discuss possible ways of handling it.
- Prepare your child for upcoming stressful events and possible ways of handling it.
- Teach your child new resources to handle stressful events.
- Teach your child resourceful thinking patterns.
- Help your child understand the concept of cause and effect.
- Teach your child to take responsibility for their own created
outcomes and discuss how to avoid them in the future.
- Teach your child to focus on solutions rather than on problems.
- Teach your child how to set goals and help them to manifest
- Reinforce your child's positive behaviors, beliefs and thoughts.
- Encourage fantasy play and role playing as a way to learn how
to handle stressful people, events and/or situations.
- Accept what your child is going through and his feelings.
- Teach your child how to handle stress through paced breathing, imagery and relaxation.
- Be patient.
- Love them unconditionally.
- Be a healthy and positive model for your child.
With your help, your child
can learn to transform stress into motivation and the best kind of motivation is the one that comes from within. Parents can learn to create an
environment where their child can grow and thrive in a more resourceful and less stressful manner. Allow for your child's own internal motivation to guide them so that they can learn to avoid "distress" and
instead live with and manage their stress effectively through time.
Copyright © 2002-2004 MindBiz, LLC.
Helping Children Overcome Stress &
Fear - By Debbie Milam
News of an impending war, terrorism alerts, and the economy has created an enormous amount of stress for many adults and this stress greatly affects our children. When we are fearful, are children are fearful. When we are stressed, our children are stressed. So what steps can we take to help ourselves and our children let go of stress and fear?
• Make time to de-stress yourself: One of the most powerful ways to de-stress
yourself is waking up half hour before your kids and spending that time in meditation or prayer. Journaling is also another
wonderful tool to help release stress. Finally, spend some time nurturing yourself by taking a warm bath with lavender oil and kosher salt, give yourself a massage, exercise, or go for a walk.
Turn off the news: As negative as the news is for adults it is even more fear evoking for a child. If you choose to teach your children about world events do so by reading the headlines on the internet
or in newspaper together.
• Teach children to meditate: Children are perfect
candidates for meditation because they have such vivid imaginations. A simple way to begin is to have your child find a quiet
spot where they won’t be disturbed. Have them close your eyes and ask them to take a deep breath in through their nose
and feel the breath travel down into their belly.
Have them hold the breath for several seconds and exhale through their mouth. Repeat this 3 times. This type
of breathing is very effective to use whenever you or your children are having a stressful moment. Then simply have them think about playing at the beach or in a park.
together: Teaching children that there is a force beyond themselves that they can turn to when they are stressed or fearful is extremely powerful. Teach your children to call upon whatever spiritual force your family believes in.
Laugh: Laughter is one of the most powerful tools for reducing stress and fear. Read joke books, have a silly face contest, watch a funny movie, find humor in every situation, learn to laugh at yourself and teach your children to laugh at themselves also.
• Spend time with your children outside in nature: Nature has a wonderfully calming effect on the
body, mind, and spirit. Take time when you or your children are stressed or fearful to visit the beach, a park, or the mountains.
• Listen to beautiful music together:
New Age, Classical, Jazz, or Nature Sounds helps to quiet down fearful and stressful thoughts in both adults and children.
• Spend time talking about their fears:
Sometimes children just need to express what is on their mind. Work together to seek solutions for overcoming fear.
• If your children’s fear or stress level is limiting them from enjoying life seek professional help: There are wonderful play therapists that can help
children relax and let go of fear.
As parents and educators there are so many ways we can encourage our children to face their fears and overcome the stress. By empowering them with these strategies they can truly achieve their highest potential.
Traumatic Stress Induces Brain Change in Children
By Michael Smith, Senior Staff Writer, MedPage Today
March 05, 2007
STANFORD, Calif., March 5 - Children with post-traumatic stress disorder, similar to adults, show physical changes in the brain, according to researchers here.
In a pilot study of 15 children,
higher PTSD scores & higher cortisol levels were significantly (P<0.05) correlated with relative decreases
over time in the volume of the right hippocampus, reported Victor Carrion, M.D., of Stanford & colleagues, reported in
the March issue of Pediatrics.
On the other hand, there was no correlation with
changes in the left hippocampal volume, Dr. Carrion & colleagues found.
In adults, PTSD is associated with lower hippocampal volumes compared with adults who don't have stress disorder,
Dr. Carrion & colleagues noted, but such a relation hasn't been shown in children.
Because animal studies show
that the stress hormone cortisol can be neurotoxic to the hippocampus, the researcher hypothesized
that children with high levels of cortisol at the beginning of a 12- to 18-month study period would show changes in hippocampal
They enrolled 15 children
(9 girls) with an average age of 10.4 & a PTSD score of 12 or greater on the PTSD Reaction Index. The children's stress scores - including hyperarousal - were evaluated using the Clinician-Administered PTSD
Scale for Children & Adolescents.
The children were suffering
from PTSD after undergoing physical, emotional or sexual abuse, witnessing violence, or experiencing lasting separation & loss, Dr. Carrion said.
"We're not talking about the stress of doing your homework or fighting with your dad," Dr. Carrion said. "We're talking
about traumatic stress. These kids feel like they're stuck in the middle of a street with
a truck barreling down at them."
Cortisol was measured by taking
saliva swabs 4 times a day for 3 days at the beginning of the study, Dr. Carrion & colleagues said & hippocampal volume
was measured at the beginning & end of the study using magnetic resonance imaging.
The researchers calculated hippocampal volume changes both as
a simple subtraction of the end volume from the beginning volume & adjusted to account for maturation & sex. The changes
were then examined for possible correlation with severity of PTSD, hyperarousal & initial cortisol levels.
- None of the PTSD markers was associated with the left hippocampal volume.
- PTSD scores & cortisol levels were correlated with simple
hippocampal volume changes at P<0.05, and hyperarousal was correlated at P<0.01.
- All 3 markers were correlated with the adjusted hippocampal volume change at P<0.05.
Dr. Carrion said the study
is "a snapshot" of the effect of PTSD on the young brain & can't say anything about functional changes in memory processing & emotion.
"One common treatment for
PTSD is to help a sufferer develop a narrative of the traumatic experience," he said. "But if the stress of the event is affecting
areas of the brain responsible for processing information & incorporating it into a story, that treatment may not be as
He said future research may
find better ways to help children with PTSD, as well as uncover the reasons that some children are more resilient than others.
source: click here - Medpage Today
Severe Stress May Damage Children's Brains
PTSD could shrink a key center for emotion and memory, study suggests
By Steven Reinberg
MONDAY, March 5 (HealthDay News) -- Children who experience
traumatic stress can suffer brain damage that results in a decrease in the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved
in memory and emotion, research suggests.
The researchers found that children with post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol were likely to have this type of damage, which could make them
prone to depression and anxiety later in life.
"In this study, we analyzed children who had a history of interpersonal
trauma, physical abuse, sexual abuse or witnessing violence and developed PTSD," said lead researcher Dr. Victor G. Carrion,
the director of the Stanford Early Life Stress Research Program at Stanford University.
Symptoms of PTSD include "re-experience," involving flashbacks,
intrusive thoughts or nightmares, avoidance and emotional numbing; and physical symptoms such as an elevated heart rate. These symptoms
make PTSD difficult to differentiate from other conditions, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to
In their study, Carrion's team measured the volume of the hippocampus
in 15 children ages 7 to 13, all of who suffered from PTSD. Measurements were taken 12 to 18 months after the start of the
Reporting in the March issue of Pediatrics, the researchers
found that children with the most severe PTSD symptoms had higher levels of cortisol at the start of the study. "Cortisol
is important because animal studies have shown that it can be toxic to the brain and kill brain cells," Carrion said.
Carrion's group also found the children with the highest levels
of cortisol were more likely to have reductions in their hippocampal volumes at the end of the study, compared with their
less-affected, but still traumatized counterparts.
The reduction in the size of the hippocampus may have serious
consequences in adulthood, Carrion said. "When you finish having chronic PTSD, you might not have the resources
in your hippocampus to really fight stress adequately as an adult," he said. "That puts you at risk for anxiety and depression."
Whether the reduced size of the hippocampus is directly caused
by PTSD or whether a smaller hippocampus makes one more vulnerable to PTSD isn't clear, Carrion noted. But this study suggests
that high cortisol levels are involved in shrinking the hippocampus, he said.
This finding adds to the understanding of PTSD, Carrion said.
"This knowledge may lead us to develop more focused and more targeted treatments," he said. "Treatment of kids with PTSD needs
to start as soon as possible," he said. "As soon as we recognize trauma, kids should be investigated for PTSD"
But one expert said the study's implications remain unclear.
"We don't know what a shrunken hippocampus means," said Dr.
Glen R. Elliott, the chief psychiatrist at the Children's Health Council, Palo Alto, Calif. "Whether that means that it works
less well or that the individual is prone to anxiety or depression -- we are nowhere near knowing that," he said.
"Over the last 20 years, there has been increasing recognition
that early trauma can have significant consequences," Elliott said. The mental health care field has moved from believing
that unless you are physically damaged there are no lasting psychological consequences, to appreciating that major overwhelming
stress from a variety of causes can produce sustained changes later on, he said.
However, Elliott doesn't think these findings will change treatment.
"It doesn't mean that we need to slam these kids with drugs," he said. "The kinds of treatments that could be effective might
be behavioral," he said.
For more information on childhood emotional problems, visit
the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
How to Cope with Back to School Stress - By Debbie Mandel
The school year presents an opportunity
for a fresh start, getting together with old and new friends, new accomplishments and exciting activities - a measure of growth.
A new vibration can be felt in the air.
Instead, in many
households anxiety, stress and even sadness reign. Parents need to bribe their children with fancy knap sacks, jazzy school
folders and lunch boxes, not to mention the back-to-school clothes to take the sting out of returning to school.
The problem with school, any level from pre-school to college, is labeling.
Children wear their scarlet letter grades as badges of honor or shame. Early in their education children are labeled B-Student,
C – Student, ADD, AD/HD, LD, OCD, Obese, etc. Once a child is labeled, expectations seem to fall in line with that label.
Ironically in spite of the labels parents harbor unrealistic expectations and become disappointed. The children absorb that
disappointment and live down to the lesser image. They begin to feel inexplicably unhappy and irritable
eroded by teachers and parents. Children soon experience stomachaches, headaches, insomnia and more frequent colds.
The start of a new school year provides an opportunity for a new spiritual
beginning, a change in perception. At this very moment parents need to create a home environment conducive to empowerment
and the philosophy of the little engine that could. Parents need to choose to see their children in a positive light. Affirm
them even in thoughts because children are mind readers. We need to stop anticipating their worst, and visualize their best.
They will respond by being happier, healthier and the best that they can be - now. So, if your child does not get the lead
in the play, don’t look at him or her with anxious eyes. Instead listen to what your child is really saying: “Mom,
I was chosen to clap and cheer in the audience.”
Here are some suggestions
to take the stress out of school as you help your children build up self-esteem:
- Start now to get those late summer bedtimes in line with early school mornings.
Children need to get their sleep. Begin to taper down about a half hour each day to reach a reasonable bedtime. Stick to it.
The key to good sleep is regularity. Establish a bedtime ritual such as: milk and crackers, a story, a bath, or a discussion
of the day’s events. Every child is different. Some children relax after a bath while others are stimulated.
- Prepare tomorrow’s clothes the evening before. This time saver will reduce
- Set up an in-basket and an out-basket similar to those in an office. Your children
will place their homework assignment sheets in the in-basket when they come home and then place completed assignments in the
out- basket later in the evening. When they leave in the morning, they just have to pick up their work from the basket and
they are good to go.
- Make sure your children eat a healthy, balanced breakfast – even if it is
on the run. Cut out sugars and white processed foods. Sugary sodas are on the forbidden list. Children who eat a wholesome
breakfast control their weight better and learn better at school.
- Make sure your child does some exercise daily even for 15-20 minutes. The benefits
include: shedding stress, feeling happier and having more focus for homework.
- Don’t over-schedule your children with extracurricular, after school activities.
This stresses you out as you rush to drive them from activity to activity and they feel overwhelmed without any quiet, free
- Post affirmations around the house for your children to see. Even better: select
those quotes together and encourage your children to decorate them.
- Try to respect your children and avoid confrontation. Communicate calmly and specifically
what you would like them to do. Because if you put them on the defensive with the blame game, they will shut down and ultimately
feel unhappy about disappointing you.
- If there are special learning problems or social issues, visit the school to speak
to teachers, guidance counselors and the principal. Be your child’s advocate and let him or her know that you are. Be
involved and visit periodically. The school and parents should not be engaged in a tug of war. You are all on the same side.
- If you cannot greet your kids when they come home from school because you are
at work, remember to call them. Children love to talk on the phone and you can connect with them. Have healthy, attractive
looking snacks like colorful cut-up fruit available in the fridge, or layer a sundae glass with low fat yogurt and berries.
Top it with a cherry. No child will cut up a cantaloupe.
- Eat dinner with your children to bond with them and share each other’s day.
- See your life as a sit-com and laugh.