Are Married Parents the Magic Cure for Childhood Obesity?

Staying together for the sake of the kids is a real family wellness issue, with many believing that divorce can take too much of a toll on child wellness, while others think that it’s better for your kids’ wellbeing if they’re not surrounded by bickering parents trapped in the same household. However, according to new research from Rice University and the University of Houston, children living in households where the parents are married do benefit in some ways, as they are less likely to be obese.

According to study co-author Rachel Kimbro, associate professor of sociology at Rice and director of Rice’s Kinder Institute Urban Health Programme, ‘Childhood obesity is a significant public health issue in our country, with nearly one-third of all US children ages two to 17 overweight or obese. Despite this, very little research has been conducted to explore the impact of family structure on this epidemic.’

The new study, published in a recent edition of the Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, showed that the obesity rate for children living in a traditional two-parent married household is just 17%, while the rate for children living with cohabiting parents is 31%, for children living with an adult relative it’s 29%, single mother 23% and cohabiting stepparent family 23%. However, due to a lack of available data, the study did not evaluate children of same-sex couples.

However, while the higher rates for non-traditional parent families still existed after the researchers accounted for factors associated with childhood obesity – such as diet, physical activity and socio-economic status – children living with single fathers or in married stepparent households were the exception to the findings. The study, “Family Structure and Obesity Among US Children,” found that these children only had an obesity rate of 15%.

Kimbro explained, ‘Previous research has shown that single-father households tend to have more socio-economic resources than single-mother households, and since socio-economic 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.’ She added, ‘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.’

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