Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Child Obesity in Low-Income Urban Families



      To characterize the relationship between maternal depressive symptoms and child weight status, obesity-promoting feeding practices, and activity-related behaviors in low-income urban families.


      We conducted a cross-sectional survey of mothers with 5-year-old children receiving pediatric care at a federally qualified community health center. We used regression analyses to examine the relationship between maternal depressive symptoms (trichotomized: none, mild, moderate to severe) and 1) child weight status; 2) obesity-promoting feeding practices, including mealtime practices and feeding styles; and 3) activity-related behaviors, including sleep time, screen time, and outdoor playtime.


      The sample included 401 mother–child pairs (78.3% response rate), with 23.4% of mothers reporting depressive symptoms (15.7% mild, 7.7% moderate to severe). Mothers with moderate to severe depressive symptoms were more likely to have overweight and obese children than mothers without depressive symptoms (adjusted odds ratio 2.62; 95% confidence interval 1.02–6.70). Children of mildly depressed mothers were more likely to consume sweetened drinks and to eat out at restaurants and were less likely to eat breakfast than children of nondepressed mothers. Mothers with depressive symptoms were less likely to set limits, to use food as a reward, to restrict their child’s intake, and to model healthy eating than nondepressed mothers. Children with depressed mothers had less sleep and outdoor playtime per day than children of nondepressed mothers.


      Maternal depressive symptoms are associated with child overweight and obese status and with several obesity-promoting practices. These results support the need for maternal depression screening in pediatric obesity prevention programs. Further research should explore how to incorporate needed mental health support.


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