Health Assets in the Family and Maintaining Optimal Weight Across the Lifespan
CitationChen, Ying. 2016. Health Assets in the Family and Maintaining Optimal Weight Across the Lifespan. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
AbstractFamily health research has been dominated by the deficit-based perspective, which focused on studying the detrimental effects of risky family environment. In comparison, the possible health benefits of positive family relationships remain less understood. To help address the knowledge gap, the present study took an asset-based perspective to investigate the association between parenting styles and offspring body weight, and the association between marital quality and adult body weight based on data from the Midlife in the United States Study. It also used data from the Nurses’ Health Study II and the Growing Up Today Study to examine the association between maternal marital history and offspring body weight.
Study 1 found a protective effect of the authoritative parenting style on offspring weight gain in mid-life, compared to the authoritarian and the uninvolved style. The association was partly mediated by the elevated rate of depression in offspring of the authoritarian and uninvolved styles. There was also evidence that it was likely the interactive effects between parental warmth and parental control that matters for offspring body weight. Study 2 revealed that maternal marital stability was protective for offspring body weight. Moreover, the analyses on multiple facets of maternal marital history suggested that higher frequency of maternal marital transitions, longer duration of mother being unmarried, and occurrence of the first maternal marital transition in offspring’s adolescence or young adulthood were each associated with higher risk of offspring being overweight or obese. Contrary to our expectation that nurturing marital relationships may provide an exception to the general pattern that positive family relationships are protective for body weight, Study 3 showed that higher marital quality was associated with lower risk of incident obesity and less subsequent weight gain in mid-life. It also found an effect of marital support independent from marital strain.
In conclusion, this study added to the evidence that nurturing family relationships may be a health asset. It also highlighted the importance of taking a lifecourse perspective. This line of research may help identify and mobilize positive attributes within the family for promoting healthy states, and open new avenues for obesity prevention and control.
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