With the obesity epidemic on a frighteningly steady rise going on to claim over 300,000 lives each year, scientists and health experts continue trying various approaches to counter America’s second leading cause of preventable death.1 2
There have been previous studies that have successfully associated adult obesity with low socioeconomic status during both childhood and the later years of life. However, another recently published study linking obesity with a destabilized childhood is currently making headlines and the explanation seems very convincing.
Details Of The Research
A group of researchers decided to look at how certain destabilizing events from an individual’s childhood (such as exposure to crime, divorce, shifting houses too frequently, etc.) could lead to a lifestyle that could set the tone for developing obesity.3 The researchers used an analytical framework called “Life History Theory” (LHT) that proposes that the amount of stability a person experiences in childhood directly predicts his lifestyle and life choices, also termed as “life-history strategies.”
Despite previous research pointing to links between childhood stress and adult obesity, this is the first time that LHT has been used to explain behaviors that lead to an unhealthful diet.4
LHT recognizes two types of life-history strategies: faster and slower. According to the researchers, faster life-history strategies are marked by a desire for immediate gratification, such as having more children earlier, having more sexual partners in their early years, and displaying impulsive behavior in general. Slower life-history strategies, on the other hand, are characterized by cautious behaviors that focus on long-term outcomes.
People with faster life history strategies are very likely to have had an unstable childhood while people with slower life-history strategies are more likely to have had very stable, well-structured childhoods.5
What Does This Mean?
People with faster life-history strategies are likely to have experienced too many unpredictable events much too early in life. This unpredictability sensitizes them to the idea that it’s difficult planning for the future when you don’t know what’s coming at you. Therefore, living in the moment and enjoying the present becomes their motto. This makes them seek out immediate happiness and focus on short-term, rather than long-term goals, encouraging them to grow up to be impulsive adults.
People with slower life-history strategies are likely to have had a much more stable childhood. Consequently, this makes them grow up to expect and desire a stable future. Thus, they focus more on the long-term consequences of their actions and end up thinking through their decisions a lot more carefully.6
What Does Obesity Have To Do With This?
The habit of eating to comfort ourselves isn’t new to us. Food can have a very gratifying effect on us especially when we’re under a lot of stress.
People with faster life-history strategies who feel the need to gratify themselves immediately are usually not too good at delaying it. They don’t know when their next meal is going to be or where it’s going to come from. As a result, they end up eating even when they’re not hungry, an action that could grow on them to become a long-term habit and eventually lead to obesity in their adulthood.
On the other hand, people with slower life-history strategies are more inclined to listen to the needs of their body and eat in a timely fashion, a habit that is extremely helpful in maintaining a healthy weight in the long run.7
It is important to always keep in mind that there’s plenty that influences how we turn out as adults, right from the biological aspect of life to how we’re nurtured and raised.
The above study sheds plenty of light on the root cause of unhealthy dietary tendencies in children. It serves as an eye-opener that very clearly demonstrates that ensuring a child’s happiness goes way beyond taking active measures to reduce “stress”. And while there is no fixed recipe for ensuring a happy adulthood, parents can certainly work towards adapting their behavior and create a stable, secure environment for their kids to ensure their future well-being and happiness.
|↑1||Flegal, Katherine M., David F. Williamson, Elsie R. Pamuk, and Harry M. Rosenberg. “Estimating deaths attributable to obesity in the United States.” American Journal of Public Health 94, no. 9 (2004): 1486-1489.|
|↑2||Obesity Second Leading Cause of Preventable U.S. Deaths, CDC Study Finds. California Healthline.|
|↑3, ↑5, ↑6, ↑7||Maner, Jon K., Andrea Dittmann, Andrea L. Meltzer, and James K. McNulty. “Implications of life-history strategies for obesity.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, no. 32 (2017): 8517-8522.|
|↑4||Rankin, Jean, Lynsay Matthews, Stephen Cobley, Ahreum Han, Ross Sanders, Huw D. Wiltshire, and Julien S. Baker. “Psychological consequences of childhood obesity: psychiatric comorbidity and prevention.” Adolescent health, medicine and therapeutics 7 (2016): 125.|