The United States has more cases of childhood obesity than ever before, but a new study suggests that a certain family dynamic can be a determinant to whether a child becomes overweight or obese. The University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Hospital found that obesity is less common for children who have siblings and this is based on a number of factors. What is it about having brothers and sisters that lowers BMI in children?
The study involving 700 American children, from 10 different locations in the U.S., found that children who had a sibling by the time they entered first grade had a lower BMI than others. Uncoincidentally, the association with sibling relationships and healthy body weight had a lot to do with playing. Dr. Julie Lumeng, an author in the study, explained how sibling play culture contributes to health.
“The possibility that seems most compelling is that if you have a younger sibling, you’re more likely to run around… It is possible that when there is a younger sibling in the family, a child might become more active – for example running around more with their toddler sibling “
In the study, it was realized that parents of “only children” played a large role in leading their child to obesity, by not being active with them and encouraging the child to sit quietly by giving them food. This act of feeding was likely to occur whether or not the child was actually hungry. In a recent statement to ABC, nutrition expert Keith Ayoob revealed this unfortunate pattern.
“There’s a tendency for parents to constantly feed, whether the child is hungry or not. Children can be silenced with food and that really ends up leading to a dysfunctional relationship with food. It’s a very quick fix.”
Quite the opposite of the previous finding, parents who enforced too many dietary restrictions increased the likeliness of obesity in their child. Recent studies have shown that eating habits begin during childhood, which means parents with only one child, who do not help them remain active, and either over-feed or restrict eating, are leading them to have some sort of eating disorder. But parents don’t have the blame all alone.
The experts at the University of Michigan noticed that childhood obesity has changed drastically in the 30 plus years they have been studying the subject. What it means to be a child in the modern world, based on their assertions, is to have everything readily available. This is largely due to technological innovations over the last 30 years. To the single child’s dismay, parents have also begun to fall victim to immediate action, despite its ineffectiveness. Ayoob supports this finding in his statement.
“I think technology has convinced parents, and everybody, that solutions come instantly, and with kids they just don’t.”
Obesity is a reality for more than 18 percent of U.S. children between the ages of six and 11-years-old, according to the CDC. In the same data from 2012, it was revealed that more than one-third of adolescents were also obese. This spike in childhood obesity has since resulted in 70 percent of America’s obese youth being diagnosed with some kind of cardiovascular disease. And, the younger children are when obesity develops, the more likely they are to be obese in adulthood.
Based on the data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity should be prevented with all the tactics it takes to eliminate the problem. Dr. Lumeng believes that the C.S. Mott study was just the beginning and that in order to link sibling relationships to improve BMI and decrease the chances of childhood obesity, more research must be conducted.
“This study might be a trigger for people to reflect on their family rhythms and what the family dynamic is. If there were a younger sibling in the family, how might the rhythms change in a way that might be protective against obesity?”
The study on how having siblings decreased the likeliness of childhood obesity was recently published in the journal Pediatrics.
[Feature image via Chau Doan/Getty Images]