Obesity tied to kids' bad behavior
Detroit Free Press - November 04, 2003

Parents have yet another reason to be mindful of their children's weight.

A University of Michigan researcher has found that there's a link between childhood obesity and behavior problems.

Just what's behind that connection isn't clear. But children who have significant behavior problems, as described by their parents, are almost three times as likely to be overweight as other children, according to the study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The study also showed that over time children of normal weight who have significant behavior problems are likely to become overweight.

The study was done by U-M behavioral pediatrician Julie Lumeng and her former colleagues at Boston University. It is based on data from an intensive long-term survey of 755 children ages 8 to 11 and their mothers.

Although it's not clear whether one causes the other, the findings suggest that behavioral problems may be part of what drives obesity in some children, Lumeng says.

What's most important is that parents and pediatricians examine children's health from a holistic -- mind and body -- perspective, says Lumeng, 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," Lumeng says. "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."

Lumeng and her colleagues stress that most of the overweight children in the study did not have a behavior problem -- only that there was a significant correlation between the two.

But with one in five American children between the ages of 6 and 11 now considered overweight and an increasing awareness that childhood behavioral problems are a predictor of adult mental health issues, the finding should be a wake-up call to parents, teachers and physicians, she says.

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Last updated: 11/07/2003 - 09:28 AM