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Keywords:

  • Depression;
  • development;
  • gender;
  • obesity

Summary

Objective

To examine the association between maternal depression and child body mass index (BMI) from Kindergarten (K) to fifth grade.

Methods

Analysis of four waves of data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten spanning K to fifth grade. Maternal depressive symptoms (MDSs) were measured by a brief version of the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression scale. Data were analyzed using multiple regression analyses, adjusting for key covariates and potential confounders. The analytic sample was restricted to children of normal birth weight.

Results

The relationship between MDS and child BMI varies by child gender and age. Among girls, severe MDS at K was related to lower BMI at third grade (but not later at fifth grade) and to an increase in BMI from K to third and K to fifth grades. Among boys, severe MDS at K was related to higher boys’ BMI at fifth grade. When severe MDS occurred at third grade, it was related to higher BMI at fifth grade among girls whereas no statistically significant relationship was found for boys. Low levels of physical activity in comparison to peers at fifth grade and more screen time on weekends at third grade are likely mediators of the relationship between MDS and child BMI among girls, while among boys the relationship appears to be mediated by unhealthy eating habits.

Conclusions

Our findings, indicating developmental and gender differences in the relationship between maternal depression and child BMI, if confirmed, suggest that interventions addressing maternal depression may have concomitant impact on childhood obesity.