Children whose parents divorce or get separated are more likely to become overweight ‘because their mothers or fathers are too busy to cook for them’
- A team of scientists tracked the body mass index (BMI) of 7,500 youngsters
- Around a fifth of the children experienced parental separation, they found
- Experts believe children of broken homes are more likely to eat unhealthily
Children of divorced or separated parents are more likely to become overweight, according to research.
Scientists tracked the body mass index (BMI) of 7,500 youngsters from before their first birthday to when they turned 11.
They discovered the average BMI of children whose mothers and fathers were still together by the end of the study was 19.
In contrast, it was 19.5 for children of divorced or separated parents, the London School of Economics team found.
Experts suggested children of broken homes are more likely to eat unhealthily as their parents have less time to prepare healthy meals.
The average BMI of children whose mothers and fathers were still together by the end of the study was 19. In contrast, it was 19.5 for children of divorced or separated parents, the London School of Economics team found
Data was taken from the Millennium Cohort Study, which follows the lives of some children born between 2000 and 2002.
The first BMI was recorded when the children were around nine months old. It was then repeated at ages three, five, seven, 11 and 14.
At the same time, researchers also analysed the family environment of each child, such as the marital status of their parents.
Around a fifth of the children experienced parental separation, according to the findings published in the journal Demography.
When comparing the BMIs of the children, they found it ‘significantly deviated’ among those whose parents had broken-up.
And they discovered the link was especially strong for children who saw their parents separate or divorce before they turned six.
A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile. Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age.
‘There may also be less money in the household to pay for extracurricular activities (e.g., sports),’ they added.
‘Compared with married parents, divorced parents may have less time to establish and observe routines and eating schedules.
‘And they may be more likely to serve their children restaurant food, ready meals, or processed food.’
The study, however, did not delve into whether there was a difference in the BMI of children living with their mother or father.
Nor did it take into account the BMIs of children whose biological parents separated and then got back together.
Childhood obesity is deemed as being one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.
With a third of youngsters judged to be overweight, Britain is thought to have the worst obesity rate in Western Europe.
Some 29 per cent of children aged two to 15 are now overweight or obese in England, with 16 per cent of them being obese.
Many parents do not accept their child has a problem – and those who do think they will ‘grow out of it’, experts have claimed.
Children who are obese are more likely to be fat adults and thus be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease or cancer.
WHAT IS THE CHILDHOOD OBESITY EPIDEMIC?
Childhood obesity is deemed as one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.
What are the statistics?
The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents aged 5-19 has risen dramatically from just four per cent in 1975 to just over 18 per cent in 2016.
NHS figures mirror worldwide stats – the proportion of children who are severely obese in England has risen by more than a third since 2007.
It is now at 4.2 per cent, the highest ever level – 24,437 children in England fall into the fattest possible category. As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.
Why is it a problem?
Raised BMI is a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, mainly heart disease and stroke, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints and some cancers.
The risk for these noncommunicable diseases increases, with increases in BMI.
Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. But as a child, they are likely to experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects.
What is being done to prevent it?
The prevention of childhood obesity is a high priority but is a difficult challenge.
While individuals are responsible for their calorie, fat, salt and sugar intake, as well as how much physical activity they do, Governments have had to step in to regulate the food industry, too.
Manufacturers can reduce the content of fat, sugar and in processed foods, ensuring that healthy and nutritious choices are available and affordable, and restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods to young people.