COVID-related stress in parents can affect children’s eating habits: study

By Shilpa Annie Joseph, Desk Reporter
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A recent study has revealed that the severe tension and stress that parents experienced during the COVID-19 outbreak had a negative impact on their children’s eating patterns.

The research was conducted by the researchers from the University of Houston College of Education and, the findings were issued in the Current Psychology journal.

At the start of the pandemic, when stay-at-home becomes mandates and schools went virtual, many parents found themselves juggling several jobs like caregiver, employee, and educator.

Dr. Leslie Frankel, Associate Professor of human development and family studies, has noted that all of those obligations and responsibilities had an impact on parents’ mental health, which in turn affected what or how much their children consumed.

Prior study has shown that stress and anxiety have a negative impact on parent-child feeding relationships in general, but new evidence suggests that COVID-19 has aggravated the situation.

“These parents do not have the time, energy, or emotional capacity to engage in optimal feeding behaviors, so they resort to maladaptive feeding behaviors such as using food as a reward or pressuring their kids to eat. As a result, their children are not able to self-regulate what or how much food they are putting into their bodies, which could have harmful consequences in the long run,” commented Dr. Frankel, who is also the study’s lead author and expert in parent-child relationships.

Between April and June 2020, the researchers surveyed nearly 119 mothers and fathers of children aged two to seven. The study looked at two types of COVID-related parental stress and discovered that stress arising from work insecurity and uncertainty in financial security was associated with psychological discomfort, whereas anxiety was connected to worries about family safety and stability. Mothers have much higher levels of stress and anxiety than fathers who participated in the study.

Dr. Frankel further explained, “The stress doesn’t just go away. Many parents are still feeling uneasy and a parent who is overwhelmed and experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety may not pay attention to or acknowledge their children’s cues of hunger and fullness.”

As a solution, the research team recommends that in the case of another global health crisis or natural disaster, leaders, as well as charitable organizations dedicated to supporting the needs of children and parents, build support networks to help families cope with daily stresses.

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