How to reduce child stress and obesity

Social safety net programmes could be used to reduce childhood stress and ultimately help tackle obesity. This is the finding of new research from Craig Gundersen, a Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois.

Professor Gundersen said psychosocial considerations are playing a significant role in the rising number of obese young people in the US, with food and lack of exercise not the only factors contributing to these levels.

He explained stressors brought on by income inequality, uncertainty about the economy and weak social safety nets also have a part to play.

"One of the factors that may influence how people react to eating and exercise is through the amount of stress they're under," Professor Gundersen added.

He explained these stressors are particularly prevalent in regions where the majority of residents are low-income earners.

The study has been published in the journal Obesity Reviews, which links more than 50 regional and national associations to over 10,000 professional members.

Dr Rachel Andrew, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "The amount and type of food we eat and the amount of activity we do are obviously related to how much we weigh.

"However, psychosocial factors are often ignored. Children who are obese need to be considered within their wider social context and an exploration of family, peer and school factors is important. 

"This report suggests wider social risk factors in relation to obesity, as well as individual and familial ones. It is interesting that the risk factors of inequality, uncertainty about the economy and weak social safety nets, which in turn increase levels of stress, are particularly relevant to low income families - and that these are also risk factors for many other childhood psychological difficulties."