divorce and childhood obesity
June 6, 2014

Higher Obesity Rates Seen In Children Of Divorced Parents

Rebekah Eliason for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A new study has found that children of divorced parents are almost 60 percent more likely to be obese compared to children of married parents. Interestingly, boys were more affected than girls.

This particular study includes two measures of weight - body mass index and waist circumference - making it one of the most comprehensive studies conducted to date. All of the children from this study participated in the national 2010 Norwegian Child Growth Study.

Over 3,000 pupils from 127 Norwegian schools comprised the nationally-representative sample of children. For the study, school nurses measured the height, weight and waist circumference of the participants who were an average of eight years of age. These measurements were used to determine general overweight status using the definition by the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) and to measure abdominal obesity, which is defined as a waist to height ration of 0.5 or more.

The results were categorized by gender and parental marital status. Parents were labeled either married, never married, which includes co-habitation, single, separated and divorced. Other influential factors such as maternal education, ethnic origin and area of residence were taken into account.

Approximately nineteen percent, or one in five, children were categorized as overweight or obese according to the IOTF definition and 8.9 percent or just below one in ten children were abdominally obese.

For all the children participating, many more of the 1,537 girls were overweight or obese than the 1,629 boys but there was no difference between genders of abdominal obesity.

Overall, children of divorced parents were 54 percent more likely to be overweight or obese and 89 percent more likely to be abdominally obese than children whose parents were still married. Children of parents who were never married had the same likelihood of obesity as those with married parents.

When taking into account other possible explanatory factors, the findings were still accurate.

Interestingly, the difference between obesity rates was in general larger for boys with divorced parents. The boys were 63 percent more likely to be overweight or obese and 104 percent more likely to be abdominally obese than their peers with married parents.

The same pattern was seen for the girls, but the differences were not statistically significant.

The authors warn that the design of their study provides no basis for an establishment of cause and effect. In addition, they did not discover how long parents had been divorced or include important lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. However, the authors noted that the findings were consistent with other studies.

Some possible explanations for the difference in obesity rates are less time spent on domestic tasks such as cooking, more reliance on unhealthy convenience foods and lower household income.

The authors suggest that the emotional fall-out from divorce and the stress surrounding disruption in the parent-child relationship, conflict between parents, and moving homes and creating new social circles may help explain the results. In addition, they suggest that boys are more vulnerable than girls.

This study was published in the British Medical Journal.