Divorce Linked To Childhood Obesity

Josephine Thompson

Journalist

Psychologists at Florida State University investigated how childhood experiences like violence, divisions, and moving house affect their weight. They found that divorce was the leading cause of over eating in young people when they reached adulthood. "These children grow up to 'live for the now'," psychology professor Jon Maner says, explaining that such unpredictable events make children live in today, afraid of making plans for the future.

"They tend to have kids at an earlier age, spend money instead of saving, and seek immediate gratification from food." Children get swept up in the idea that you don't know what's around the corner, thus making it difficult to plan for the future, and they start living for today.

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Professor Maner used a well-established behavioral science barometer called Life History Theory to receive clearer conclusions. It can predict a wide range of behaviors – like parenting skills and being financially literate - but has never been used to predict obesity. Life History Theory posits that people produce a limited amount of reproductive energy in their lives. The amount of structure experienced during childhood influences their use. As such, Maner claims that unpredictable childhoods can cause a 'fast-life-history strategy' for adults. "Slow-life-history-strategy" is a mindset that results from a predictable childhood.

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"Our research suggests it's not just about reducing stress, it's more about creating structure and predictability for children," Maner said, commenting on the value of his research for combating the obesity epidemic in the US. "For example, have family meals at the same time each night or bedtime rituals every day. Routines teach children to have expectations that, when met, result in a sense of certainty and structure. Theoretically, that feeling of predictability instills a slower-life-history strategy, which may reduce obesity in adulthood."

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