Dual Versus Single Parental Households and Differences in Maternal Mental Health and Child’s Overweight/Obesity

  • Britni R. BelcherEmail author
  • Jaclyn P. Maher
  • Nanette V. Lopez
  • Gayla Margolin
  • Adam M. Leventhal
  • Chaelin K. Ra
  • Sydney O’Connor
  • Tara L. Gruenewald
  • Jimi Huh
  • Genevieve F. Dunton


Objectives Mothers report higher levels of psychological stress than fathers. s. Psychological stress is posited to influence parenting practices that could increase children’s obesity risk. However, previous studies have not investigated several aspects of maternal mental health and the moderating role of household structure on children’s obesity risk. The objective was to investigate associations of maternal mental health with child obesity risk, and whether these associations differed by household structure (single-parent vs. dual parent/multigenerational). Methods Mothers and their 8–12 year old children (N = 175 dyads) completed baseline questionnaires on mothers’ mental health and child anthropometrics. Separate logistic regressions assessed associations of standardized maternal mental health indicators with the odds of child overweight/obesity, controlling for child age, and women’s BMI, age, education, employment status, and annual income. Household structure was investigated as a moderator of these relationships.Results There were no statistically significant relationships between maternal mental health characteristics and odds of child overweight/obesity. Among single mothers only, greater anxiety was associated with higher risk of child overweight/obesity [OR (95% CI) = 3.67 (1.27–10.62); p = 0.0163]; and greater life satisfaction was marginally associated with lower risk of child overweight/obesity [OR (95% CI) = 0.44 (0.19–1.01); p = 0.0522]. Mothers’ life satisfaction may lower risk for their children’s overweight/obesity, whereas higher anxiety may increase this risk, particularly among children living in single-mother households. Conclusions for Practice Future interventions could increase resources for single mothers to buffer the effects of stress and lower pediatric obesity risk.


Stress Pediatrics Parents Demography Obesity 



The authors wish to thank the MATCH participants. This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (R01HL119255) and the American Cancer Society (118283-MRSGT-10-012-01-CPPB).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Britni R. Belcher
    • 1
    • 7
    Email author
  • Jaclyn P. Maher
    • 2
  • Nanette V. Lopez
    • 3
  • Gayla Margolin
    • 4
  • Adam M. Leventhal
    • 1
  • Chaelin K. Ra
    • 1
  • Sydney O’Connor
    • 1
  • Tara L. Gruenewald
    • 5
  • Jimi Huh
    • 1
  • Genevieve F. Dunton
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of MedicineUniversity of Southern California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of KinesiologyUniversity of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA
  3. 3.Department of Health SciencesNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychology, Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and SciencesUniversity of Southern California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  5. 5.Department of Family & Consumer SciencesCalifornia State University, Long BeachLong BeachUSA
  6. 6.Departments of Preventive Medicine and PsychologyUniversity of Southern California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  7. 7.Los AngelesUSA

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