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Genetics & Environment May Drive Childhood Obesity

Anxiety Maybe a Lesser Factor

How Genetics and the Environment Contribute to Weight Gain

By John Salak–

Childhood obesity facts are frightening. Approximately 15 million Americans—nearly 20 percent of that age group—are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Carrying extra weight brings the added dangers of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, breathing problems and high blood pressure.

Many studies have also indicated that the condition can lead to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem in younger ones. Admittedly, these overweight individuals are more likely to battle depression, anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but recent research now questions whether obesity is the cause.

British research, in fact, now suggests that childhood obesity factors could be rooted in family genetics and environment.

“We need to understand the relationship between childhood obesity and mental health,” reported lead author Amanda Hughes, Senior Research Associate in Epidemiology at Bristol Medical School. “This requires teasing apart the contributions of child and parent genetics and the environmental factors affecting the whole family.”

The British team attempted to do this by examining genetic and mental health data from 41,000 eight-year-old Norwegian children and their parents. The research focused on the relationship between children’s body mass index (BMI) and symptoms of depression, anxiety and ADHD. The effort also attempted to account for genetic and environmental influences and their parents’ BMI.

The study found little connection between a child’s BMI and anxiety symptoms. There was also conflicting evidence about whether a child’s BMI influenced depressive or ADHD symptoms.

If these conclusions are accurate, then traditional efforts to reduce childhood obesity are unlikely to lessen depression, anxiety and ADHD in these children, the researchers reported.

“At least for this age group, the impact of a child’s own BMI appears small. For older children and adolescents, it could be more important,” noted Neil Davies, a professor at University College London.

The analyst also suggested that having a mother with a higher BMI might be linked with depressive symptoms in children. There wasn’t any link between a child’s mental health condition and their father’s BMI.

“Overall, the influence of a parent’s BMI on a child’s mental health seems to be limited. As a result, interventions to reduce parents’ BMIs are unlikely to have widespread benefits to children’s mental health,” added Alexandra Hadal, a research professor at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

The researchers did not discount the health dangers associated with childhood obesity. They only focused on obesity’s relation to mental health issues and how to combat it.

“Our results suggest that interventions designed to reduce child obesity are unlikely to make big improvements in child mental health. On the other hand, policies which target social and environmental factors linked to higher body weights, and which target poor child mental health directly, may be more beneficial,” Hughes concluded.





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