Joint Effects of Child Temperament and Maternal Sensitivity on the Development of Childhood Obesity

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The interplay between child characteristics and parenting is increasingly implicated as crucial to child health outcomes. This study assessed the joint effects of children’s temperamental characteristics and maternal sensitivity on children’s weight status. Data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development were utilized. Infant temperament, assessed at child’s age of 6 months by maternal report, was categorized into three types: easy, average, and difficult. Maternal sensitivity, assessed at child’s age of 6 months by observing maternal behaviors during mother-child semi-structured interaction, was categorized into two groups: sensitive and insensitive. Children’s height and weight were measured longitudinally from age 2 years to Grade 6, and body mass index (BMI) was calculated. BMI percentile was obtained based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s BMI charts. Children, who had a BMI ≥ the 85th percentile, were defined as overweight-or-obese. Generalized estimating equations were used to analyze the data. The proportions of children overweight-or-obese increased with age, 15.58% at 2 years old to 34.34% by Grade 6. The joint effects of children’s temperament and maternal sensitivity on a child’s body mass status depended on the child’s age. For instance, children with difficult temperament and insensitive mothers had significantly higher risks for being overweight-or-obese during the school age phase but not during early childhood. Specific combinations of child temperament and maternal sensitivity were associated with the development of obesity during childhood. Findings may hold implications for childhood obesity prevention/intervention programs targeting parents.