Recent studies have shown that girls who grow up in stressful environments where violence, depression, or other disturbances are prevalent are more likely to become obese by five-years-old, as opposed to children who live in steady homes. Further, according to Medical Journal Pediatrics, preschool girls who are exposed to these unfortunate circumstances have an even higher risk of becoming obese.
Although the study could not pinpoint why, it found that these obesity links did not apply to boys. It has been speculated that this could be because boys cope with stress by engaging in physical activities.
The study indicates that domestic violence, hunger, constantly moving or living in a shelter, a father in legal trouble, a depressed mother, or alcohol and drug abuse, are common stresses in turbulent homes. Studies have suggested that the reason why these stresses lead to weight gain is linked to how a mother relates to her daughter.
The study states that “food may be used in excess as a tool for consoling or pacifying emotional needs of the child by the parent or to self-soothe by the child.”
A possible explanation could be that the daughter is undergoing the same stresses as the mother and thus, affecting her biologically. As a result, the daughter’s stress response system gets triggered and produces high levels of stress hormones, associated with weight gain and constant eating. Further, young girls often reach for foods high in sugar or foods that are calorie dense because it often comes with instant gratification.
Regardless of the causes, experts find this statistic extremely alarming, as they know that if you are obese as a child, you are more likely to be obese as an adult. Being overweight can lead to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
Exercise can also counter stressful situations, and in turn, childhood obesity. Our GoGirlGo! program works to address these concerns. Our program targeted for elementary, middle and high school girls, works across the country to keep girls involved in physical activity and to improve the health of sedentary girls. We recognize the growing concern about obesity among young girls and are doing our part to help.