Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Obesity; Adolescent; Mother; Intergenerational Transmission

Major Advisor

Dr. Stephanie Milan

Associate Advisor

Dr. Amy Gorin

Associate Advisor

Dr. Linda Halgunseth

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Research indicates that adolescents who have an obese mother have an increased risk of obesity. Despite genetic and ecological factors that may contribute to intergenerational transmission of obesity, many adolescents with an obese mother are not overweight/obese themselves. The current study examines three domains (i.e., SES/neighborhood factors, family context, and individual weight behaviors and attitudes) drawn from ecological models of health that may influence mother/daughter weight similarity. Participants included 181 low-income adolescent females and their biological mothers. Four dyadic groups were compared, including; 1. Obese mothers with an overweight/obese daughter (OM/OD), 2. Non-obese mothers with an overweight/obese daughter (NOM/OD), 3. Obese mothers with a non-overweight/obese daughter (OM/NOD), and 4. Non-obese mothers with a non-overweight/obese daughter (NOM/NOD). Multivariate and univariate analyses of covariance with planned contrasts and chi-square tests were used to test for group differences. Of particular interest were group differences in the three domains between OM/OD and OM/NOD groups.

Analyses demonstrated no significant group differences in SES/neighborhood factors. In the family context domain, there were group differences in the mother-daughter communication factors and in maternal mental health variables (i.e., Depression and PTSD). In contrast, family environment (shared family meals, dyadic decision making about food, rules about eating) and mother-daughter relationship factors (maternal warmth and hostility, relationship style) were not significantly different among

Jennifer Ramirez – University of Connecticut, 2017

groups. In the individual weight behaviors and attitudes domain, there were significant group differences in the expected direction, but no group differences in mother or daughter exercise behavior. In the contrast of most interest (OM/OD versus OM/NOD), maternal mental health factors were the most robust distinguishing characteristic. In post hoc analyses, potential mediators of the link between maternal depression and adolescent overweight/obesity were explored.

Overall, results suggest maternal mental health may increase the likelihood for obesity among adolescent girls at elevated risk because of maternal obesity. Factors such as the functional impairment related to a mother’s mental health (e.g., low motivation) or modeling of unhealthy coping strategies (e.g., emotional eating) could be mechanisms through which adolescents are at increased risk for obesity. Increased attention should be paid to family context of adolescent females as health care professionals develop and implement prevention and intervention efforts.