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Family stress and BMI in young children


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Aim:  The aim of this study was to investigate if family stress and parental attachment style are associated with body mass index (BMI) in young children, and identify possible explanations.

Methods:  A cross-sectional survey with a two-stage design was used. Parents of 873 children participated. They completed a demographic questionnaire, the Swedish Parenthood Stress Questionnaire (SPSQ), the Relationship Questionnaire (RQ) and reported their children’s television-viewing habits (as a marker of physical activity). Children’s height, weight and BMI were obtained from a general population-based register, BASTA. Associations with over- and underweight in children were assessed using multiple logistic regression analysis.

Results:  Family stress indicated by SPSQ-score was associated with suboptimal BMI. Maternal, but not paternal, SPSQ-stress score was statistically significantly associated with overweight and underweight, with adjusted odds ratios (and 95% confidence interval) of 4.61 (3.11–6.84; p < 0.001) and 3.08 (1.64–5.81; p < 0.001) respectively. Associations between childhood BMI and parental attachment style were identified, but were not independent of maternal SPSQ-score.

Conclusion:  Our findings support a role for family stress in development of both overweight and underweight among young children. This is likely to be attributed to behavioural mechanisms but a more direct metabolic influence of stress could also be involved.