Social and Behavioral Risk Factors for Obesity in Early Childhood

Publication Year


Journal Article

Although multiple social and behavioral risk factors associated with obesity co-occur among young children, most studies have examined them separately. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between social risk factors, behavioral problems, health behaviors, and obesity among preschoolers in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 1589).

A cumulative social risk score was created by summing maternal reports of intimate partner violence, food insecurity, housing insecurity, maternal depressive symptoms, maternal substance use, and father's incarceration, obtained when the child was 3 years old. Mothers reported on the child's internalizing and externalizing behaviors with the Child Behavior Checklist at age 5 years. Mothers also reported on hours the child spent watching television and sleeping as well as servings of soda or juice drinks the child consumed per day. Child height and weight were measured at age 5 years. Obesity was defined as body mass index ≥ 95th percentile.

In regression analyses adjusted for health behaviors, behavioral problems, and sociodemographic factors, cumulative social risk was associated with obesity among girls. Externalizing behavioral problems were associated with obesity among girls (prevalence ratios [PRs], 1.5; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.2-1.7) and boys (PR, 1.3; 95% CI, 1.1-1.6). Short sleep duration was also associated with obesity among girls (PR, 1.2; 95% CI, 1.0-1.4) and boys (PR, 1.3; 95% CI, 1.1-1.5) even after adjusting for behavioral problems and social risk factors. Watching more than 2 hours of television per day was associated with obesity among boys (PR 1.5; 95% CI, 1.2 to 1.9) but not girls.

Co-occurring social and behavioral risk factors are associated with obesity among 5-year-old children.

Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics