Young children who lack secure relationships with their mothers are more than twice as likely to be obese at age 15 than those who enjoy warmer mother/child ties.

A study published Monday morning in the journal Pediatrics examined the relationships between 977 children and their mothers at ages 15 months, 24 months and 36 months. Drawing on data from the federal Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, the researchers noted the extent to which children felt their mothers provided a safe, secure base from which they could explore their world and to which they could return for comfort after a stressful event. They also noted the degree to which mothers were able to gauge their child’s emotional state and respond in comforting, consistent manner.

Looking ahead to those children’s BMIs at age 15, they found that teens who had had the least-supportive relationships with their mothers in early childhood were nearly two and a half times as likely to be obese than those who had the best relationships with their moms.

The authors suggest that children with poor maternal relationships may have felt stress and emotional distress and may have learned to cope with those feelings by overeating. Such stress can also contribute to overweight by boosting levels of the hormone cortisol.

The authors conclude that helping mothers learn skills to develop warmer, more nurturing relationships with their children could help protect against obesity. About a third of U.S. adults are obese; most initiatives to stem the tide of obesity focus on encouraging children to develop more healthful eating and exercise habits.