Childhood obesity is soaring. In fact, about a third of US children are currently overweight or obese — and a new study may reveal one big cause.

Researchers found toddlers who have a poor relationship with their moms could be twice as likely to be obese by the time they turn 15, possibly because they tend to turn to food as a substitute for motherly comfort.

“This study provides evidence that paying attention to the quality of the relationship between parents and children could impact children’s weight status,” says researcher Sarah E. Anderson, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Ohio State University College of Public Health in Columbus, adding the results “underscore the importance of early childhood for obesity prevention.”

Laurie Miller Brotman, PhD, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and the director of the Harris Obesity Prevention Effort at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, said changes in parenting — even later on — can circumvent childhood obesity.

In particular, she says it’s important to help kids develop healthy coping strategies, and she especially advises against soothing an upset child with foods like candy or ice cream: “You don’t have to use food to cope if you know what to do when you are stressed out.”

[WebMD]