Posted 10.30.2018 | by AMRA

Children from low-income, high-stress families are at increased risk for obesity. Further, highly stressed parents tend towards parenting styles that are less warm, less involved, and more punitive. An intervention that improves parental nonjudgmental attention to moment-to-moment parent-child interactions might also prove helpful in preventing childhood obesity.

Jastreboff et al. [Journal of Pediatrics] explored whether a novel mindful parenting program could improve parenting style and reduce the risk for obesity in the parents’ preschool-aged children.

The researchers randomly assigned 42 highly stressed low-income parents of preschool aged children (average age = 31 years; 98% female; 62% multiracial; average BMI=36) to either an 8-week Parenting Mindfully for Health (PMH) program or an educational control group. High parental stress was defined by high scores on a perceived stress scale.

The PMH and control participants both attended 8 weekly 2-hour group sessions that included 20 minutes of nutrition and physical activity education and counseling. The remainder of the time in the PMH group was modeled after MBSR, which included a focus on mindful parenting, eating, and physical activity. The remainder of the control group’s time was devoted to viewing and discussing nature videos.

Parents were assessed pre- and post-intervention for mindfulness (using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale), perceived stress, nutritional intake, pedometer-measured physical activity, and BMI. Their preschool children wore an activity sensor to measure levels of physical activity and also had their BMI calculated from their height and weight.

Parent-child dyads were videotaped during a “Toy Wait Test” in which the children had to wait five minutes until their parents completed some paperwork before they could play with a toy. Toy Wait Test videotapes were rated for the quality of parent-child interaction by independent blind raters.

The average child’s BMI percentile increased significantly more for control children (a 12 percentile increase) than for PMH children (a 1 percentile increase; f=0.42). After intervention, PMH parents spent significantly more time verbally interacting with their children to help them tolerate waiting for the toy and remained more involved with their children than control parents (f=0.34).

PMH parents also showed a trend towards increased positive parental affect, warmth, and engagement, but control parents did not. Both groups of parents ate healthier diets after intervention (f = 0.36), but only the PMH parents significantly decreased their eating in response to emotional upset. There were no significant changes in parental mindfulness, stress, BMI, or physical activity at post-intervention in either group.

The results show that the Parenting Mindfully for Health (PMH) program effectively improved positive parenting style, and significantly slowed weight gain in their preschool children over the course of 8 weeks. Given that PMH parents showed no significant changes in mindfulness or stress, the mechanisms of action remain unknown. Didactic aspects of the program involving mindful parenting and eating may have been responsible for the observed intervention effects, as the control group contained no similar components. The study is limited by its small sample size and lack of longer-term follow up.


Jastreboff, A. M., Chaplin, T. M., Finnie, S., Savoye, M., Stults-Kolehmainen, M., Silverman, W. K., & Sinha, R. (2018). Preventing childhood obesity through a mindfulness-based parent stress intervention: A randomized pilot study. The Journal of Pediatrics.

[Link to abstract]