In low-income urban families, a mother’s depression is linked to childhood obesity and disengaged parenting.
“We know many mothers experience feelings of sadness and depression. Despite this awareness, many mothers really suffer in silence and don’t feel comfortable [talking to someone about their feelings],” said Dr. Rachel S. Gross, lead author of the study.
While most research shows a link between a mother’s feelings of depression and a child’s development and social health, “This was one of the first [studies] to look at younger children [and how depression] can impact the physical health of children,” she said.
Gross has spent most of her career working with low-income families in the Bronx in New York. There she has witnessed patients struggling with feelings of depression as well as children who are gaining weight more quickly than expected.
For the study, moms self-reported depressive symptoms — such as loss of interest, fatigue, low energy and poor concentration — along with their children’s body mass index (BMI) at age 5.
The researchers controlled for such factors as decreased access to parks and fresh produce and still found the link.
According to the study, mothers who are depressed, have less than a high school education and are unemployed often display “… permissive parenting, where they place fewer demands on their children.”
“They are less responsive to their child’s needs, choosing parenting strategies for coping that require less cognitive effort and often neglect to set limits on the child’s behavior,” the study reports.
“They were more likely to have children who consumed more sweetened drinks, infrequently had family meals, more commonly ate at restaurants and had fewer regular breakfasts than children with mothers without depressive symptoms. Depressed moms also were less likely to model healthy eating than non-depressed mothers.”
Feeding practices, such as preparing daily breakfast, modeling healthy eating and setting limits on the child’s diet, all require active maternal involvement, Gross said, possibly explaining why these practices were less common among depressed mothers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its guidelines that emphasize the importance of maternal mental health, said Gross.
“My advice is to encourage mothers to seek out help from their doctors but also to consider talking to their pediatrician,” said Gross. “Mothers with young children take them to the doctor more frequently than they take themselves, so it’s an opportunity to help mothers in a pediatric setting.”
Source: Academic Pediatrics