• psychosocial;
  • family;
  • pediatrics;
  • parents;
  • behavior


Objective: Critical gaps remain in our understanding of the obesigenic family environment. This study examines parent and family characteristics among obese youth presenting for treatment in a clinic setting.

Research Methods and Procedures: Families of 78 obese youth (BMI z-score = 2.4; age, 8 to 16 years; 59% girls; 49% African-American) were compared with 71 non-overweight (BMI z-score = −0.02) demographically matched comparisons. Parents completed measures assessing family demographics, psychological distress (Symptom Checklist 90-Revised), and family functioning both broadly (Family Environment Scale: Conflicted, Support, Control) and at mealtimes (About Your Child's Eating-Revised: Mealtime Challenges, Positive Mealtime Interaction). Height and weight were obtained from all participants.

Results: Compared with mothers and fathers of non-overweight youth, parents of obese youth had significantly higher BMIs (p < 0.001). Mothers of obese youth reported significantly greater psychological distress (p < 0.01), higher family conflict (p < 0.05), and more mealtime challenges (p < 0.01). Less positive family mealtime interactions were reported by both mothers (p < 0.01) and fathers (p < 0.05) of obese youth. These group differences did not vary by child sex or race. Logistic regression analyses indicated that maternal distress and mealtime challenges discriminated between obese and non-overweight youth after controlling for maternal BMI. Family conflict was explained, in part, by maternal distress.

Discussion: Obese youth who present for treatment in a clinic setting are characterized by psychosocial factors at the parent and family level that differ from non-overweight youth. These data are critical because they identify factors that may be serving as barriers to a family's or youth's ability to implement healthy lifestyle behaviors but that are potentially modifiable.