Symptoms of depression in mothers are linked to unhealthy behaviors in adolescents

A 15-year longitudinal study showed that symptoms of maternal depression are associated with an increase in the number of unhealthy adolescent behaviors.

While unhealthy behaviors were found to be common among adolescents in general, with two out of three engaging in at least one, higher levels of maternal depressive symptoms during middle childhood and adolescence were associated with participation in more unhealthy behaviors at ages 16 to 17. Laura Bechteger, MSc, of the Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development in Zurich and colleagues report.

Of the 213 participants included in the study, two-thirds reported at least one unhealthy behavior, and a fifth reported three or more unhealthy behaviors. Pediatrics.

One in four adolescents reported poor sleep and an unhealthy diet, two in five reported poor physical activity, and one in seven reported having said too often and smoked at some point.

No gender differences were observed in the total number of unhealthy behaviors, although boys were more likely to report poor diet, while girls were more likely to report physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour.

“It is noteworthy that all associations are small, highlighting that maternal depressive symptoms are not necessarily associated with unhealthy behaviors in adolescents,” Bechtiger and his team wrote. “This points to complex developmental processes of unhealthy adolescent behavior that need to be studied in future research.”

“It would be appropriate to include repeated actions for unhealthy behavior in childhood” in this future research, Bechtiger said. MedPage today. “This will allow us to better understand whether maternal and child depressive symptoms actually precede the unhealthy behaviors of the children, or whether the associations between these symptoms are more dynamic.”

The authors noted that adolescence is the time when children are given new opportunities to engage in unhealthy behaviors, noting that such behaviors as poor nutrition and smoking can be risk factors for cardiovascular disease and cancer later in life.

“Our findings suggest that caring for the mental health of children and parents is important in pediatric practice,” said Bechtiger. “While promoting mental health, including parental health, may not appear to be directly related to pediatric practice, doing so can prevent negative long-term, long-term health consequences.”

Previous research has indicated that up to one in five children in the United States experiences maternal clinical depression.

“Basic depressive symptoms include a lack of energy and motivation. This anhedonia presents a significant barrier to mothers’ participation in health-promoting activities. For example, depressed mothers may lack the energy to be active with their child(ren) and model unhealthy habits, such as sleep patterns Unable to adapt or follow an unhealthy diet.”

“Promoting maternal well-being and mental health is not only critical for mothers themselves, but can contribute to addressing one of the most pressing public health problems by promoting healthy children’s behaviors,” Bechtiger and the team wrote.

“Mental health screening for parents and children in primary care settings, such as child health visits, can be one way to identify affected families early and refer them to relevant resources and services, as well as an opportunity to start a conversation about unhealthy behaviors of adults and children.”

This 15-year prospective, longitudinal community-based study was conducted using data from The right way Health project in North Carolina. Data were collected for children aged 2 to 17 years.

Families were recruited through children’s day care centers, the county health department, and the local Women, Infants and Children program. The final sample included 213 children with a mean age of 16.62 years at the time of assessment. 42% were boys, 65% were white, and 29% were black and middle Hollingshead Index The result was 39.88.

Unhealthy behavior was assessed at 16 to 17 years of age by a cumulative index of adolescent unhealthy behavior based on self-reported poor sleep, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, sedentary behavior, and smoking. The timing of exposure to maternal depressive symptoms was divided into early childhood (2-5 years), middle childhood (7-10 years), and adolescence (15 years).

The authors note that the frequency of maternal depressive symptoms during early childhood (9.1%), middle childhood (5.7%), and adolescence (13.4%) was low.

The overall indirect effect of maternal depressive symptoms on child depressive symptoms on adolescent unhealthy behaviors was significant (B = 0.08, 95% CI 0.01–0.18). The indirect effect observed by persistence of maternal depressive symptoms was also significant (B = 0.19, 95% CI 0.01-0.39).

Bechtiger and his team noted that unhealthy behavior was only measured in adolescence, which limited the ability to determine the direction of association. In addition, the sample was small in size and unhealthy behaviors were self-reported. Furthermore, the study design was correlative in nature and was not conclusive with regard to causation. Psychiatric diagnoses and use of services among mothers were also not measured.

  • James Lopilato He is a writer for Medpage Today. It covers a variety of topics being explored in current medical science research.


This study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The study authors did not mention any conflicts of interest.