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02-05-2012 | Psychology | Article

Low-income, stressed mothers may trigger obesity in children by overfeeding


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MedWire News: Low-income mothers who have depression or who are single parents are more likely than other mothers to overfeed their children by adding cereal to their bottled milk, suggest study results.

The researchers also found that exposure to infant behavioral challenges and a lack of infant breastfeeding triggered overfeeding by mothers.

Candace Taylor Lucas (New York University School of Medicine, USA) and colleagues are concerned that such behaviors may promote childhood obesity and say that it is important to keep parents well informed and give them appropriate support to help prevent these practices.

"Depression is very common in low-income mothers and makes it more difficult to engage in beneficial parenting practices in general," said Lucas, who presented the results at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, in a press statement.

"Our results are especially concerning because they suggest that depressed mothers may be more likely to add cereal to the bottle, which may increase their children's risk of obesity," she added.

The team collected data from 254 low-income mothers (mean age 27.5 years) and their infants (mean age 6.7 months) who were talking part in the larger Bellevue Project for Early Language, Literacy and Education Success (BELLE Project). The mothers were asked whether they ever added cereal to their children's bottled milk to help them sleep or stay full for longer.

The researchers then assessed what factors may increase a woman's likelihood for adding cereal to their children's milk. Possible factors included exposure to breastfeeding, maternal depressive symptoms (patient health questionnaire-9 score ≥5), concern about future infant overweight, gender of infant, birth order, and temperament intensity of child, as well as general demographic factors.

Overall, 24% of the mothers reported adding cereal to the infant milk. Lucas and colleagues found that in unadjusted analyses seven factors were positively associated with adding cereal to infant milk. These included young maternal age (below 21 years), native Spanish speaking, being a single parent, no exposure to breastfeeding, maternal depression, concern about future infant overweight, and high intensity of child temperament.

In adjusted analyses, being a single parent and maternal depression significantly increased the risk for infant overfeeding by 1.4- and 15.1-fold, respectively. Infants with no exposure to breastfeeding and a high intensity temperament were also a significant 1.3- and 12.3-fold more likely to be overfed.

"Overall, these findings demonstrate that stressors prevalent in low-income households, such as depression, single parenthood and associated infant behavioral challenges, influence feeding practices likely to promote obesity," Lucas concluded.

"It is important to provide support for parents related to healthy feeding practices if we are to end the epidemic of childhood obesity."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Helen Albert

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