Understanding more about factors that affect an overweight child’s well-being could help health-care professionals better treat these kids, said David Janicke
, a UF assistant professor of clinical and health psychology
in the College of Public Health and Health Professions
and the lead author of the study.
Tending to the needs of distressed parents could be one of the best ways to help children, Janicke said. Having supportive parents is vital for children to be able to make the lifestyle changes needed to lose weight. Often, children only have access to food at home, so what a parent puts on the table usually determines what the child eats, Janicke said. Also, the behaviors a parent models affect the lifestyle choices a child makes, too.
When parents are struggling, they may have less energy and not be able to provide the emotional support an overweight child needs or help organize play dates and exercise activities, Janicke said.
“Looking at how parents are doing themselves, how they are doing socially and emotionally and how they are coping with the stresses in their lives, is really important too,” Janicke said. “It’s important for them to take time out to take care of themselves.”
More than 33 percent of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Prior studies conducted elsewhere have shown that overweight children have a poorer quality of life than normal-weight peers. UF’s study is one of the first to examine how factors such as parent distress and depression can affect a child’s well-being.
Children whose parents were struggling tended to have a lower overall score for quality of life. Parent distress was linked to depression in children, and these symptoms seemed to be related to poorer quality of life.
“Helping parents take care of themselves and be effective listeners is a starting point,” Janicke said.