Stressed-out parents were found to be more likely to serve their children fast food, and, perhaps not surprisingly, more likely to have obese kids.
The study, published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, looked at survey responses from 2,119 parents and caregivers of kids ranging in age from 3 to 17. The researchers then measured stress based on self-reported data from the respondents.
"Stress in parents may be an important risk factor for child obesity and related behaviors," said Dr. Elizabeth Prout-Parks, a physician nutrition specialist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the study. "The severity and number of stressors are important."
Some of the stressors weighing heavily on parents with obese children included poor physical and mental health, money woes, and being a single parent -- the last factor having the strongest link to child obesity.
Although previous research has found a connection between parental stress and child obesity, the researchers say that their study covered a more diverse population, "both ethnically and socioeconomically," than did previous studies.
Dr. Eleanor Mackey, a child psychologist at Children's National Medical Center in Washington DC, told WebMD that fast food is an easy default for stressed-out parents. "You have a hard day at work, and trying to get a nutritious meal on the table can be overwhelming and expensive," she said. "It can be difficult to raise healthy kids without adequate resources."
While fresh produce can be costly, she recommends low-salt frozen or canned vegetables as an option, and that parents give themselves time to de-stress.