Child Obesity Lower For Married Parents
May 22, 2013

Married Parents And Single Dads Have Leaner Children

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from Rice University in Houston have found that children living in homes with both parents are less likely to become obese than their peers who live with divorced or separated parents.

Following a 12-year study, the researchers say the data suggests children who grow up in a “traditional” home with married parents are at a lower risk of becoming obese. Interestingly, however, their data also suggests that children living with a single father ran an even lower risk of becoming obese.

The study, led by Rachel Kimbro, associate professor of sociology at Rice and director of Rice´s University´s Kinder Institute Urban Health Program, and co-author Jennifer Augustine, also found that even married stepparents were beneficial in reducing the likelihood of children becoming obese.

Given the obesity epidemic in America, Kimbro says she was surprised that so little research had been done to investigate the role played by the family in a child´s weight issues. Augustine and Kimbro´s study is now available in the latest edition of the Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk.

Kimbro and her colleagues began collecting data for this study in 2001, conducting in-home interviews with primary caregivers when their children were nine months old. The researchers then gathered subsequent data when the children were two years old, when they entered preschool, and when they were in kindergarten. Kimbro and crew included a diverse group of families in their study, including families from various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The data concluded that children who lived with married parents in what they called a “traditional” two-parent household had a 17 percent chance of becoming obese. The only group they studied that had a lower percentage of becoming obese were children raised by single fathers or married stepparents.

With 31 percent obesity rate, children who lived with cohabitating, non-married parents were almost twice as likely to become obese as those living with married parents. Children living with an adult relative had a 29 percent obesity rate according to this study, while cohabitating stepparents led to a 23 percent obesity rate. The researchers say they controlled for other factors which have previously been found to lead to childhood obesity, including activity, diet and socioeconomic status.

In a statement, Kimbro suggested why children raised by single fathers were even less likely to become obese than those raised in a home with two married parents.

“Previous research has shown that single-father households tend to have more socio-economic resources than single-mother households,” said Kimbro. “And since socioeconomic status is the single greatest predictor of health, it serves to explain why children in single-father households may be less likely to be obese.”

Kimbro says she hopes this study will lead to further investigations of “nontraditional” family settings and the impact they could have on the children´s health.

“For reasons we cannot fully measure, there appears to be something about people who marry and have a child that is fundamentally different than the other groups, and these factors are also linked to children´s weight,” she said.

Augustine agrees with Kimbro, saying she hopes others will begin to look at the obesity problem through the lens of the family unit.

“There is substantial research on how family structure matters to other domains of children´s development, yet little research on why marriage and other family structure types might matter for children´s obesity,” Augustine said.