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Direct and indirect effects of parent stress on child obesity risk and added sugar intake in a sample of Southern California adolescents

  • Eleanor T Shonkoff (a1), Genevieve F Dunton (a2), Chih-Ping Chou (a2), Adam M Leventhal (a2), Ricky Bluthenthal (a2) and Mary Ann Pentz (a2)...

Research indicates that children are at higher risk for obesity if their parents have been exposed to a larger number of stressors, yet little is known about effects of parents’ subjective, perceived experience of stress on children’s eating behaviours and adiposity and whether weight-related parenting practices (i.e. parent rules and positive family meal practices) mediate this relationship. The present study evaluated the direct and mediated relationship between parent perceived stress and child waist circumference and parent stress and child consumption of added sugars one year later.


Longitudinal panel data.


Eleven communities in Southern California, USA.


Data were collected over two waves from parent–child dyads (n 599). Most parents were female (81 %) and Hispanic (51 %); children were 11 years old on average (sd 1·53; range 7–15 years) and 31 % received free school lunch.


Perceived parent stress was not significantly associated with child waist circumference or consumption of added sugars one year later, and mediating pathways through parenting practices were not significant. However, parent rules were significantly associated with lower child consumption of added sugars (β=−0·14, P<0·001).


Results suggest that parent rules about the types of foods children can eat, clearly explained to children, may decrease child consumption of added sugars but not necessarily lead to changes in obesity risk. Parent- and family-based interventions that support development of healthy rules about child eating have the potential to improve child dietary nutrient intake.

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