Stress is bad not just for you, but even for those around you. And this is true especially in the case of children. A stressful home and your constant bickering with your spouse can have a negative affect on your children in a number of ways. And this doesn't just apply to the time when your children are old enough to understand it. It starts from when you get pregnant.
Previously, stress during pregnancy has been known to put the development of the fetus under pressure. It can also trigger anxiety, mood disorders as well as severe neurological conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children. A mother's stress levels can also affect the development of a fetus' brain. A 2013 study published in the journal Child Development talked about how parental stress during the early years of the child's life can adversely affect the insulin production as well as brain development later in their life.
"Maternal stressors in infancy and paternal stressors in the preschool years were most strongly predictive of differential methylation, and the patterning of such epigenetic marks varied by children's gender. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first report of prospective associations between adversities in early childhood and the epigenetic conformation of adolescents' genomic DNA," noted the study.
Countless studies have shown how 'mirror neurons' work in children. The most easy example is when someone smiles at an infant and the infant smiles back. They might not understand what the smile is intended for, but they mirror a person's emotions. Similarly, they can also mirror your stress. According to Daphne Hernandez and her team from University of Houston, "Experiencing family stress - specifically family disruption and financial stress - repeatedly throughout childhood was associated with overweight or obesity by the time adolescent girls turned 18."
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The study was published in the journal Preventive Medicine and suggests a relationship between long-term exposure to stress and children becoming obese by the time they turn 18 years old. While maternal poor health can make boys obese by the time they turn 18, long-term exposure to financial stress and family disruption can make adolescent girls vulnerable to gaining extra kilos by the time they turn into adults. Interestingly, only one chronic family stress point - maternal poor health - was related to boys becoming overweight or obese by the time they turned 18, the researchers noted.
"Overall, the findings suggest that female and male adolescents respond differently to stress. By knowing the types of stressors that influence female and male adolescent weight gain, we can tailor specific social services to be included in obesity prevention programs," Hernandez pointed out.
Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, the researchers examined three family stress points - family disruption, financial stress and maternal poor health - and applied those to data of more than 4,700 adolescents born between 1975 and 1990. Hernandez said that the findings are important particularly to school-based obesity prevention programmes that currently focus on dietary intake and physical activity, which she says yield only short-term benefits.
"These programs need to take a broader approach to combating obesity by helping families experiencing these kinds of stressors find access to mental health programmes, financial assistance or family counseling," she said.
Inputs from IANS and PTI