Stressful Experiences Linked to Childhood Obesity

Spread the love

cropped-childhood-trauma-fact-sheet15.png

Stress And Childhood Obesity

We are frequently reminded by the media that, in the western world, obesity in children has increased at an alarming rate since around the 1970s ; worse, this rate of increase is expected to keep on growing for the foreseeable future. Indeed, in the United States, for example, one in six children are now medically classified as overweight or obese.

The reasons that children become obese can be contributed to by both genetic and environmental factors. In the past, research into the causes of childhood obesity have tended to focus on the balance between the child’s intake of calories versus his/her level of physical exercise ; in this article, however, I intend to focus on other environmental causes ; more specifically, the effects of stress.

child_stress_obesity

The link between stress and childhood obesity has only been examined by psychologists since relatively recently. Some of the main findings from studies that have been conducted have been as follows :

  1. research by the psychologists Avisont and Walters (2007) found that children growing up in one-parent families were more likely to be obese than those who grow up in a secure nuclear family (although this by no means implies a simple, direct, cause and effect relationship ; it could, for example, be that one-parent families tend to have less money which in turn causes more stress which, in its own turn, makes it more likely the children in the family will become obese (due to a reliance on cheap, junk food, for instance)
  2. the researcher, Rhee (2008), found that children from dysfunctional families were more likely to be obese than were children from stable homes.
  3. children who suffered neglect were more likely than non-neglected children to be obese (Lissan, 1994).
  4. children who live in homes where at least one other has mental or physical health problems were more likely to be obese than those children who did not ; children who grew up in households where money worries were substantial were more likely to be obese than their more financially privileged contemporaries

POSSIBLE REASONS FOR THE LINK BETWEEN STRESS AND

CHILDHOOD OBESITY :

The main theories for the link between stressful experiences and obesity in childhood are as follows :

  1. the researchers Booth et al (2000) have suggested that there is a direct physiological link between stress and obesity, namely that stress causes an increase of CORTISOL in the body and this, in turn, adversely interferes with the METABOLIC PROCESS
  2. stress leads to poor eating habits (for example, due to ‘comfort eating’, craving carbohydrates etc) and lower physical activity levels (for example,  due to poor motivation to exercise connected to low mood/reduced will-power)

IMPLICATIONS FOR TREATMENT :

The implications of these findings for treatment are clear : by addressing factors such as those referred to above, and, thereby, reducing stress levels in the members of problematic families, it may well follow that childhood obesity levels can be reduced.

Mental Illness

People who have suffered childhood trauma, and, as a result, have gone on to develop mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder (BPD) have, statistically, worse PHYSICAL health , on average, than those who are mentally well. One reason for this, although there are many) is that both the sufferer and their doctors can be so focused upon treating their emotional difficulties that their physical health tends to take second place and is consequently rather neglected.

One problem that the psychiatric conditions mentioned above can lead to is DYSFUNCTIONAL EATING BEHAVIOR (or, put rather more simply, over-eating ; for example, what is commonly referred to as ‘COMFORT EATING’). As this often leads to obesity, significant physical health problems may develop (eg heart disease).

Indeed, in the USA it is estimated that up to 325,000 deaths per year are linked to obesity (Allison et al, 1999).

On top of the serious physical problems it may cause. obesity can aggravate mental health conditions by setting up a vicious circle. For example : the depressed person eats more and more to soothe his/her inner turmoil and becomes obese as a result – because of the prejudice which exists within society, being obese lowers his/her self-esteem and confidence ; this in turn leads to greater feelings of depression which leads to even greater unhealthy eating-behaviour, and so the self-damaging cycle continues…

BINGE EATING

Not infrequently, the problem becomes one of being unable to resist the temptation to binge eat. Indeed, it is under consideration that BINGE EATING DISORDER might be officially entered into DSM (the Diagnostic and Statitical Manual used by psychiatrists) as a psychiatric disorder, not least due to the fact that 40% of those who binge eat become obese (Johnson et al, 1996).

THE ROLE OF HYPNOTHERAPY IN CONTROLLED EATING AND WEIGHT REDUCTION :

The primary requirement for those who wish to control their eating behavior and lose weight involves MODIFYING BEHAVIOURS. Hypnotherapy can be of use here by:

– motivating the individual to make beneficial dietry changes

– motivating the individual to monitor their eating (a technique which helps weight reduction) by keeping a diary of what they eat, for example

– motivating the individual to take some moderate exercise

– increasing the individual’s self-control

– helping to control eating desire stimuli (eg by motivating the individual to eat in the same place every day)

– helping to address distorted thinking which leads to excessive eating (eg irrational and faulty belief systems)

– helping to address the emotional dysregulation  (uncontrolled emotions) which can lead to over-eating/binge eating

– reducing the person’s levels of stress and anxiety which may have been causing the over-eating/binge eating

– improving the individual’s self-esteem (low self-esteem often underlies the causes of over-eating/binge eating).

RESEARCH :

Stradling et al (1998) carried out research which suggested HYPNOSIS FOCUSING ON STRESS REDUCTION has a significantly beneficial effect upon weight loss. Furthermore, research that was conducted by Davis and Dawson (1980) found that the use of AUDIO RECORDINGS for SELF-HYPNOSIS were effective in helping people to CONTINUE to lose weight (this is very important, because, often, people lose weight at first but then quickly put it back on again).

Overall, most research has suggested that a hypnosis component in a weight loss program helps with weight loss.

RESOURCES :

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: