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Quality of Early Maternal-Child Relationship and Risk of Adolescent Obesity

Insecure attachment with low maternal sensitivity at ages 2 and 3 years was associated with teenage obesity.

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  • N: 97
  • Subject Ages: Birth to 12.0 and 15.9 years
  • Location: United States, nine states
  • SES: Diverse, based on the NICHD study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD)
  • Eligibility: Children included in the NICHD study
  • Additional:
    • Exclusion criteria - maternal age less than 18, non-singleton birth, lack of English fluency, post-birth hospitalization of more than seven days or plans for adoption


  1. Obesity in adolescents is related to the quality of the early maternal-child relationship.

Variables Measured, Instruments Used

  • Adolescent obesity - BMI
  • Early maternal-child relationship quality - combined score from:
    • Direct observation at 15, 24, and 36 months
    • Attachment security - the Strange Situation
  • Additional variables: Mother’s educational attainment, racial ethnic group, birth weights, household size and income at 24 months, mother’s weight and height when child was 15 years




  1. Low maternal sensitivity at 15, 24 and 36 months was associated with increased odds of adolescent obesity.
  2. Insecure attachment was associated with increased odds of adolescent obesity at 24 months but not at 15 months and 36 months.
  3. At 24 and 36 months, the combination of low maternal sensitivity and insecure attachment was associated with greater odds of adolescent obesity than was either on their own.


  • Causality cannot be determined by observational studies.
  • Measure of maternal obesity was only assessed when the children were teenagers but not when they were younger.
  • Cannot exclude the possibility of selection bias