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Divorce link to overweight children

Friday June 6th, 2014

Children whose parents divorce are at a greater risk of being overweight or obese, a Norwegian study has claimed.

The research, published in BMJ Open, said that boys may be especially prone to excess weight gain.

The researchers, led by Dr Anna Biehl, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, examined more than 3,000 children, all of whom were part of the national 2010 Norwegian Child Growth Study.

School nurses measured the height, weight, and waist circumference of the children whose average age was 8.

The results were stratified by gender and parents’ marital status, taking account of influential factors, such as the mother’s educational attainment, ethnic origin and area of residence.

Using the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) definition of obesity, which is a waist to height ratio of 0.5 or more, they found that 19% of the children were overweight or obese. Just under 1 in 10 (8.9%) was abdominally obese.

Significantly more of the 1,537 girls were overweight or obese than the 1,629 boys, but there were no differences in the prevalence of abdominal obesity.

Children whose parents were divorced were 54% more likely to be overweight/obese and 89% more likely to be abdominally obese. Children whose parents had never married had a similar prevalence of overweight and obesity to those with married parents.

Boys with divorced parents were 63% more likely to be generally overweight/obese than boys whose parents were married. They were 104% more likely to be abdominally obese.

The same pattern was seen among girls, but the associations were not as marked and were not statistically significant.

Although Dr Biehl and fellow authors said the associations they found were consistent with findings from other studies, they have urged caution because their study does not establish cause and effect. They were unable to ascertain how long parents had been divorced and were not able to include lifestyle factors such as the children’s normal diet and exercise regime.

Factors that could account for the association include emotional fall-out of a divorce and stress, ongoing conflict between the divorcing parents, moving home and the need to create new social networks.

Biehl A et al. Parental marital status and childhood overweight and obesity in Norway: a nationally representative cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 5 June 204; doi 10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004502 [abstract]

Tags: Child Health | Diet & Food | Europe

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