Childhood obesity is associated with adverse health outcomes across the lifecourse. Accordingly, there is growing interest in psychosocial correlates of child obesity, including the role of stress and a child’s social-emotional development on obesity risk. This dissertation examined the association between two parental stressors, relationship quality and parenting stress, on preschooler’s emotional regulation skills and their obesity risk. Inspired by the Risky Families Model, the overarching theoretical argument and research questions this dissertation addresses is whether higher levels of parental stressors lead to poor emotional regulation skills of the child, and if poor emotional regulation skills contribute to increased risk of child obesity. In addition, this dissertation assessed whether certain parenting resources, including the number of household routines and socioeconomic resources, served as protective factors.
I used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort which provides a nationally representative sample of children born in the United States in 2001. To include a more comprehensive analysis of obesity risk, I examined 8 outcomes: frequency of family meals, soda consumption, fast food consumption, fruit consumption, vegetable consumption, sleep duration, odds of exceeding the 2 hour guideline for daily screentime and weight status (obese/not obese). I conducted multivariate Ordinary Least Squares regression , logistic regression, or negative binomial regression to show the relationship between 1) each parental stressor and a child’s emotional regulation skills, 2) a child’s emotional regulation skills and 8 obesity risk factors and 3) each parental stressor and the 8 obesity risk factors. For each analysis , I included measures of sociodemographic characteristics, socioeconomic resources, child-level characteristics and parent-level characteristics as covariates. Additionally, I tested whether protective factors moderated these associations including interaction terms.
Analyses were based on an analytic sample of 4,000 co-residential mother-father dyads at the preschool wave. In general, the results suggested that parental stressors were associated with a child’s emotional regulation skills and obesity risk. However, these associations often became non-significant once parent-level characteristics that influence family functioning, or the general social-emotional climate of the household, were added to the models. Thus, the findings indicated that parent-level characteristics including maternal depressive symptomology, conflict resolution styles and the number of household routines may influence a child’s behavior and obesity risk above and beyond the specific stressors this dissertation focused on. In addition, the overall findings also suggest that the relationships between parental stressors and child outcomes vary by parental gender as the associations are stronger among mothers than fathers. The results did not support the hypothesis that parenting resources moderated the association between the parental stressors and a child’s emotional regulation skills, but there was partial support for moderation when examining the association between a child’s emotional regulation skills and the obesity risk factors.
This dissertation contributes to the literature on psychosocial correlates of child obesity by highlighting the importance of examining familial characteristics that influence the general social-emotional climate of the household and the role of parents’ gender to better understand how the family environment and specific behaviors and practices influence early childhood health and development.