Introduction: Psychosocial stress is associated with obesity in adult and pediatric populations, but few studies have examined the relationship between parent-perceived stress and risk of child obesity and related behaviors.
Methods: We studied 689 pairs of parents and children aged 2 to 12 in Massachusetts with a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 85th percentile. Recruitment occurred from June 2014 to March 2015, and data collection ended in March 2016. We asked parents about their perceived stress and categorized responses as low, moderate, or high. We examined associations of parents' stress with children's BMI, expressed as a percentage of the 95th percentile (%BMIp95), and obesity-related behaviors by using multivariable regression models adjusted for child and parent characteristics. We stratified results by race/ethnicity, annual household income, and the child's age.
Results: In fully adjusted models, the association between high versus low parent-reported stress and children's %BMIp95 remained significant only for children in low-income households (β = 5.12; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.94-9.30) and for non-Hispanic black children (β = 7.76; 95% CI, 1.85-13.66). Parents with high or moderate stress versus low stress were less likely to report that their children met recommendations for fast-food consumption (high stress, prevalence ratio [PR] = 0.79; 95% CI, 0.65-0.96; moderate stress, PR = 0.70; 95% CI, 0.59-0.82), but parents with high versus low stress were more likely to report meeting daily physical activity recommendations (PR = 1.21; 95% CI, 1.01-1.45).
Conclusion: Among children with overweight or obesity, parent-perceived stress was associated with fast-food consumption and physical activity. Parent-perceived stress was associated with child %BMIp95 among children in low-income households and non-Hispanic black children. Obesity interventions should consider parent-perceived stress and potential differences in the nature of stress experienced by parents of different racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02124460.