About 1 in 3 children are considered to be overweight or obese, or at least more than 20% body fat for their height and age in the U.S. Many factors are a contributor such as sedentary lifestyle, hereditary influences, poor diet, stress, and even certain external factors that have not been as acknowledged. However, as a way to pin point what causes health issues and begin to eliminate it, studies have been working to find the possible culprits causing weight gain for kids.
Research released recently by Norwegian researchers, as part of the 2010 Norwegian Child Growth Study, decided to test whether there seemed to be a pattern between children of divorce and weight problems. The researchers also did a more recent study that looked into meal-time with families and finding common links between weight and sharing the table. This study took more than 8,000 participants from all over Europe to see if sharing frequent meal times at the family table influenced weight in kids.
The marital status and children’s experiment included information on about 3,100 third-graders ages 8 and 9. They chose three groups of kids living with married, divorced (never married), and single guardians (which also cohabiting single parents.)
- The study indicated that although more little girls (of households of any marital status) overall had issues with being overweight or obese, boys who came from divorced families showed a high amount of obesity.
- Boys of divorced homes were twice as likely to be overweight than the girls of the same parental status household (63% compared to 34%; respectively.)
- Boys were 63% more likely to be overweight or obese than boys from other households. Additionally, they were 104% more likely to have abdominal fat than children of still married parents.
- Even the groups of boys from single or never married homes had similar results to the married-parent group. Therefore, the study shows a clear effect in weight for boys who have parents who no longer are married.
- Overall, they found that 19 percent of the children were overweight or obese and nearly 9 percent were obese in the abdomen.
Although it is not clear why children of divorced parents had high risks of being overweight or obese; some factors may include:
- Single parents reach for quicker, generally less healthy meals (i.e. fast food, prepackaged, etc).
- Possible new alone time for kids and greater access to snack foods.
- Stress coping mechanisms might effect children’s appetites.
- Poverty is often associated with obesity; perhaps newly single parents do not have the same resources at hand.
- Studies in the fact hint that newly-single parents might become less authoritative to gain favoritism over the other parent.
- Boys may have even more stress put on them after divorce feeling that they now take on “man of the house” roles.
Does Eating with Families Affect Obesity in Children?
In many families, finding time to enjoy a meal together as a unit can be difficult with conflicting busy schedules. However, research has shown that kids that are eating a meal with their family at least 5 times a week have greatly benefited from it. Some of the things it can prevent include future substance or alcohol abuse, on average they perform better academically and it also teaches children fundamental social skills. One other thing that it can improve is the health of a child. Kids who ate regularly with their immediate relatives were less likely to be overweight or obese. The time together at the table allows parental figures to monitor what kind of food choices their child is making and allows them to build positive habits.
Children were 40% less likely to be overweight or obese if they ate breakfast and dinner with their families.
Children who regularly ate lunch with their parents; however, were 20% more likely to be overweight than kids who did less often.
So Are “Fat Kids” Born or Made?
The real debate is whether kids are more likely to have issues maintaining a healthy weight from genetic preposition or if their environment is more of a factor. Due to the results of the study, it would be easy to assume that males are more vastly affected from environmental factors in regard to weight gain than females. Also, it would be easy to conclude that mealtime as a family is a great lifestyle choice for children. However, more studies like this should be conducted with larger groups to gain genuine insight to this issue. Additionally, studies in the United States should be conducted in the future. Our society has naturally different social and cultural norms that could definitely alter the results of this survey.