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The Fit Families pilot study: preliminary findings on how parental health and other family system factors relate to and predict adolescent obesity and depressive symptoms



This study, undergirded by family systems theory, examined the extent to which parent and family-level factors correlate with adolescent obesity and depressive symptoms. We also considered whether these variables predict unique variance in adolescent obesity and depressive symptoms. The participants were a convenience sample of 77 racially diverse, predominantly early adolescents (aged 12 to 17) and their parents. Results from a series of linear and logistic regression analyses indicated that three of the study factors (parental weight history, family resources and adolescent weight history) significantly contributed to the variance in adolescents' body mass indexes and only one of the study factors (parental depressive symptomatology) significantly contributed to the variance in adolescents' rates of depressive symptomatology. These preliminary findings clarify how parent and family system factors might inform family and school-based intervention and treatment efforts for adolescent health outcomes.

Practitioner points

  • Family environment (measured in this study as family conflict and cohesion) should continue to be evaluated as a risk factor for obesity and depressive symptoms in racial and ethnic minority and non-minority families.
  • Family therapists as well as other practitioners (for example, primary care providers) should assess for family conflict when adolescents present with physical and psychological distress and disturbances.
  • Family therapists and other practitioners could be more effective if they established whether adolescent patients and their family members have the resources (for example, knowledge, financial ability and skills) needed to live a healthy lifestyle, as well as the coping strategies for maintaining their physical and psychological health.