Children of married parents less likely to be obese

Children who grow up in homes with married parents have a lower chance of being obese, according to new research from Rice University and the University of Houston.

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, and its findings show that children of two-parent married households have a 17 percent obesity rate, compared to a 31 percent obesity rate for children with cohabitating parents.

A predictor of health?

The research also found that obesity rates climbed for children living with an adult relative (29 percent), a single mother (23 percent) or a cohabitating stepparent (23 percent). However, children living with a single father had an obesity rate of 15 percent.

"Previous research has shown that single-father households tend to have more socio-economic resources than single-mother households," Rachel Kimbro, study co-author, associate professor of sociology at Rice and director of Rice's Kinder Institute Urban Health Program, said in a press release. "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."

Even after accounting for diet, physical activity and socio-economic status, the obesity rates remained the same.

The study did not evaluate children who lived with same-sex couples.

Family structure matters

Kimbro's co-author, Jennifer Augustine, said that she hopes the research will encourage further investigation on the topic.

"There is substantial research on how family structure matters to other domains of children's development, yet little research on why marriage and other family structure types might matter for children's obesity," she noted.

Kimbro and Augustine are partnering on a new project that analyzes how household processes in different family structures could explain differing rates of childhood obesity.

"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," Kimbro said.

The research was funded by Rice University and the University of Houston.

Source: Rice University

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