The research study at Linköping University shows that children in families with high levels of stress run up to three times the risk of being obese than those in families with lower stress levels.
Felix-Sebastian Koch, the researcher behind the study, argues therefore that psychological stress could be an important factor to consider in connection with the burgeoning obesity epidemic in Sweden.
Childhood obesity can in turn lead to lower self-esteem and dissatisfaction with appearance.
Koch’s study is based on body mass index readings of 17,000 children born between 1997 and 1999 in south-eastern Sweden. The children were measured at two, five and eight-years-old.
The study also included interviews with 3,800 eight-year-olds and asked them how they felt about themselves both physically, psychologically and in relation to their talents and personality characteristics.
Koch found that almost a third of the children interviewed were unhappy with their appearance. Many of the children expressed a desire to be either bigger or thinner.
Furthermore a few children among the 10 percent already classified as thin, expressed a desire to be even thinner.
“If one is not happy with oneself at eight-years-old, then something is not right. It is possible that an increasing number of children are unable to meet the ideals that are conveyed to them,” Felix-Sebastian Koch said in a university press release.
His research points out that stress in families with small children can have several causes: tough life challenges, dysfunctional social networks or concern for the children.
When these factors combine the children become more inclined to obesity, Koch explains.
Stress and obesity can have several causes. It could be that the children engage in comfort eating, but could also be due to insulin and hormone changes that increase the storage of fat.