The caring support of a mother can make a lot of difference in whether young women will become obese a dozen years later, reports a new study.

According to psychiatric researcher Dr. Shervin Assari, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health:

“The effect of parents on offspring obesity is not limited to the parenting style, or behaviors that directly influence food choice, exercise and sedentary lifestyle, but rather is focused on the degree to which parents provide support, warmth and love. It’s a very good news for public health professionals that parental support at age 20 has a lasting effect at least 12 years later."

The U-M researchers followed a cohort of African-American daughters in their 20s for a dozen years, from the average ages of 20 to 32. This age group had not been studied in previous research, most of which looked at parental influence on childhood obesity.

The young women who received emotional and moral support from their mothers were less likely to become obese, the study found. Peers who were at risk of developing obesity in the future had mothers who were less supportive, less close, and less warm.

For young men, parental support or lack, had no impact young on obesity. The paper, “Low parental support in late adolescence predicts obesity in young adulthood; Gender differences in a 12-year cohort of African Americans”, was published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders.

“Fortunately, parental support is easy to improve at the community level, as several evidence-based interventions have proved to be effective,” Assari said.

A larger issue is addressing policies that influence the way a mother who lives in poverty parents, he says.

“Policies that are relevant to the relations between family members include those that determine job availability, socioeconomic status, health and other disparities in poor communities,” Assari said. “Any policies that alter the function of a family in such context are the ones that need to be addressed."

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