The children of mothers with psychological
distress are at greater risk of obesity.
Psychiatrists from the University of Liverpool
set out to examine the relationship between maternal psychological
distress and obesity in their children. They present their findings
today at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry annual meeting in Dublin.
Dr Lakshmiprabha Ramasubramanian and Professor
Atif Rahman used data from mothers and children who participated in
the Millennium Cohort Study.
Almost a fifth (18%) of the children studied
was found to be overweight at the age of three. A further 5% were
obese. Almost 4% of the mothers in the study scored highly on the
Kessler 6 scale – a scale which measures people’s psychological
Analysis of the data showed that mothers with
serious psychological distress were significantly more likely to
have children who were overweight or obese.
Psychological distress is defined as a score
of 13 or more out of 24 on the Kessler 6 scale. The Kessler 6 scale
is simple questionnaire used in general health surveys and
population studies to screen people for mental health problems such
as low mood and anxiety.
Dr Ramasubramanian said: “Our results suggest
that maternal psychological distress is associated with a higher
likelihood of early childhood obesity and may increase the risk of
children being overweight at the age of 3. It is important to note
that this study has its limitations as it is based on data from one
time point only and also that there could be other factors that
have not been adjusted for. Further studies are needed in this
Dr Ramasubramanian continued: “Childhood
obesity has been described as a ‘global epidemic’ by the World
Health Organisation, and the UK government has set an ambitious
target of stopping the escalating trend by 2010. With this is mind,
it is clear that more needs to be done to investigate the many
factors that contribute to childhood obesity. Further studies are
needed to address factors that may be modifiable to be able to
address the rising trend in childhood obesity.”
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Annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Dublin, 9 - 11 September 2009