• body mass index;
  • interaction;
  • maternal influences;
  • mother–child interaction;
  • obesity;
  • psychological distress


Background  The prevalence of child obesity is increasing rapidly worldwide. Early childhood has been identified as a critical time period for the development of obesity. Maternal mental health and early life environment are crucial factors and have been linked to adverse child outcomes. The objective of the study was to examine the relationship between maternal serious psychological distress and obesity in early childhood.

Methods  A cross-sectional analysis of data from the Millennium Cohort Study was conducted. Subjects consisted of all natural mothers (n= 10 465) who had complete and plausible data for Kessler-6 scores, socio-demographic and anthropometric variables, and their children for whom anthropometric measurements were completed at age 3. Maternal serious psychological distress was defined as a score of 13 or more on the Kessler-6 scale. Obesity was defined as body mass index ≥95th centile of the 1990 reference chart for age and sex in children. The data were analysed using spss 16. Maternal socio-demographic factors that are known to influence maternal mental health and child obesity were identified and adjusted using multivariate logistic regression.

Results  Of the 10 465 mother–child dyads, 3.5% of mothers had serious psychological distress and 5.5% of children were obese at 3 years of age. Logistic regression analysis showed that maternal serious psychological distress was associated with early childhood obesity (P= 0.01; OR 1.62, 95% CI 1.11, 2.37). After adjusting for potential confounding factors using multivariate logistic regression, maternal serious psychological distress remained significantly associated with early childhood obesity (P= 0.01; OR 1.59, 95% CI 1.08, 2.34).

Conclusions  The results show that maternal serious psychological distress is independently associated with early childhood obesity.