KIDS
June 17, 2014

Divorce Gets Heavy

Children of divorce are more likely to be overweight or obese than other kids. Especially boys.

Divorce is rarely easy on anyone involved, and its effects can be especially complicated for kids. A new study finds that children of parents who were divorced or never married are more likely to be overweight or obese — particularly boys.

While the study can’t say exactly why this is the case, it does point to the need to pay special attention to the issue if you’re a divorced or single parent.

Children of divorced parents were 54% more likely to be overweight or obese and 89% more likely to be abdominally obese, compared to kids whose parents were married.

The researchers looked at over 3,100 eight-year-old Norwegian children who participated in the 2010 Norwegian Child Growth Study. The kids were from 127 different schools, and each had had his or her height, weight, and abdominal obesity measured by their school nurse.

When waist circumference is more than half of height, a child is considered abdominally obese and at risk for several health problems.

Children of divorced parents were 54% more likely to be overweight or obese and 89% more likely to be abdominally obese, compared to kids whose parents were married. Similar results were found for the children of parents who were never married.

Boys appeared to be at greater risk than girls: The boys of divorced parents were 63% more likely to be overweight or obese than boys whose parents were married, 104% more likely to have abdominal obesity.

It’s important to remember that the study only illustrates a correlation — it doesn’t suggest that divorce directly causes children to be overweight.

The researchers didn’t examine how long the parents had been divorced or what the kids’ schedules, exercise routines, or diets were like. But, the authors speculate, there could be a number of variables involved, including less time available for healthy cooking, more reliance on prepared/packaged foods, and increased financial strain.

Emotional and psychological factors such as the stress caused by divorce, navigating between two households and neighborhoods, and the changing relationships with their parents and siblings, are undoubtedly also involved.

More research will be needed to understand all the possible connections. In the meantime, don’t feel that your kids are doomed to be overweight if you’re divorced: Just keep paying attention to their nutrition and exercise, and give them the emotional support they need. This will be the best thing you can do now, and for their health in the future.

The study was carried out by a team at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo and is published in the journal BMJ Open.

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