New research released during Obesity Week, suggests environmental stressors impact obesity from one generation to the next.

Researchers and physicians from around the world met in Los Angeles this weekend to discuss new findings in the fight against obesity – particularly the increased rates of obesity among Black and Latino populations.  National Obesity Week (November 2-6) saw the release of new data suggesting that Latino and Black  parents’ stress levels contribute to them producing obese children as well.

Researchers, led by Carmen Isasi from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, found that obesity and chronic stress were prevalent among Latino and Black populations, with 28 percent of obese children, ages 8-16, and 29 percent of their parents reporting high levels of stress.  Further, researchers found that parents who experienced three or more chronic stressors were twice as likely to produce obese children, than parents who experienced no stress.

Stress and weight gain were initially linked culturally among Black women in 2014 by researchers studying their rapid increase in weight.  Some 59,000 Black women were studied by the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, who concluded that the presence of severe psychosocial stress contributed to obesity. “The association between racism and weight gain was present within all levels of BMI, education, and geographic region, suggesting that our results might apply to a larger population of U.S. Black women,” said lead author Yvette C. Cozier, assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University, in a research statement.  “We found that self-reported perceptions of racial discrimination are positively associated with higher weight gain in U.S. Black women. These results add to the body of evidence that experiences of racism may contribute to the excess burden of obesity observed in U.S. Black women and underscore the public health importance of continuing antidiscrimination efforts in this country and worldwide.”

With Isasi’s research documenting the proliferation of stress-related obesity from one generation to another, health advocates believe medical programs must address social factors that contribute to medical ailments.

While Cozier suggested workplace and community-based programs designed to eliminate racism and reduce racism-induced stress, Obesity Week participants urged medical interventions to counter stressors. “This research should encourage clinicians and healthcare practitioners to consider high stress levels as a warning sign for developing obesity not only in the adult patient, but also in the patient’s entire family,” said researcher Margarita Teran-Garcia said in a statement. “Although the study is cross-sectional, it suggests that special attention should be paid to adult patients who report experiencing high stress levels in this population, and providers are encouraged to consider behavioral counseling as one measure for obesity prevention and treatments.”

These studies are among the first of their kind to show that links parental stress to the risk for childhood obesity. They both add to the understanding of family influences on child weight status could potentially impact how obesity is managed by physicians in minority populations.