A recent study at Florida State University has shed new light on the root cause of obesity. According to researchers, an unpredictable childhood increases the risk of becoming an obese adult. The results of the study were published in the journal entitles Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers define an unpredictable childhood as one that involves a child being subjected to difficult issues such as divorce, relocating frequently, and crime. Professor of Psychology, Jon Maner, determined that children who experience an unpredictable childhood have a higher risk of overeating later in life, while those who have a stable childhood did not.
Maner explained that when children have an unpredictable childhood, it sensitizes them, giving them the idea that it is hard to make plans for the future because they do not know what is around the next corner in life. This in turn causes them to live for now and prevents them from being able to look ahead in life. They focus on short-term goals and immediate gratification instead of long-term goals and the delayed gratification that comes with achieving something in the future. These individuals are also more likely to have children at a young age and spend money instead of saving it.
While previous studies have shown a link between obesity and a low socioeconomic status, those studies did not clearly identify the root cause of the problem. In general, the previous studies concluded that families that had too much stress led to a variety of adverse outcomes for those children as they grew up and became adults.
However, for the first time, during this study, Maner and his team used the behavioral science known as the Life History Theory, which is used to predict behaviors, including a person’s ability to make financial decisions and to be a parent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), approximately 17 percent of all youth between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. Obesity is a serious problem that causes a number of health issues, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, stroke, and cancer to name a few.
Maner said these facts show a sense of urgency for health professionals and researchers to determine the underlying cause of obesity. He said one of the main goals of the study was to find ways to prevent obesity from occurring. Previous studies highlighted the need for families to reduce the amount stress; however, they failed to clearly define ways to achieve less stress.
This latest study not only looks at reducing stress in families, it looks to help families create a more stable structure for children by establishing predictability. Maner said routines such as meals served at the same time each day and set bedtime schedules help children know what to expect and gives them structure and a sense of certainty in their lives, which in turn may help reduce the risk of them becoming obese adults.
By Trixie Dillwood