Results published today in the journal Pediatrics show that children who have significant behavior problems, as described by their parents, are nearly three times as likely to be overweight as other children. In addition, children with behavior problems are as much as five times more likely to become overweight later.
The study, done by a University of Michigan behavioral pediatrician and her former colleagues at Boston University, is based on national data from an intensive long-term survey of mothers and children conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor.
"This demonstrates solidly for the first time what we have suspected for years from clinical experience, that there is an association between behavior problems and obesity, and that a child with behavior problems is more likely to go on to be overweight. This is true regardless of socioeconomic status," says lead author Julie Lumeng, M.D., a research investigator at the U-M Center for Human Growth and Development and clinical instructor in the U-M Department of Pediatrics.
"In other words, we can't ignore either the mind or the body in trying to prevent the lifelong health effects from weight problems and mental disorders that start in childhood," she adds. "When interventions aren't working with a child who is overweight, we need to address his or her mental well-being - and vice versa for kids with behavioral problems."
The study looked at comprehensive demographic, weight, behavior, physical and mental health, education and socioeconomic data from 755 children ages 8 to 11 years old, and their mothers. All were taking part in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which sends interviewers to participants' homes on a regular basis over many years.
Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System