Having Younger Siblings Linked to Lower Obesity Rates

Mar 14, 2016 06:02 AM EDT | By Staff Reporter

Children with younger siblings should feel blessed to have that pesky little brother or sister around. According to a U.S. study, children with younger siblings have lower chances of becoming obese by first grade.

Children who did not have a younger brother or sister are three times more likely to be obese by first grade when compared to children who have younger siblings when they were around three or four years of age, according to a Reuters article was written by Lisa Rapaport and posted on YahooNews.

According to Dr. Julie Lumeng, senior study author and pediatrics and public health researcher at the University of Michigan and C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, one possible explanation for the trend is that the older child is more likely to be more active with the addition of the younger sibling. It is highly likely that the older child, being the nearest in age to the toddler, is exposed to longer playtime with the younger sibling such as running around the house. Another possibility is that with two restless young children, families might take them to the park more often, lessening sedentary activities such as watching television.

The article also suggests that meals might be a little different with a younger sibling around. Previous researchers have pointed out that in the case of an only child, parents tend to get both controlling and too focused on the child's eating which could lead to potential bad eating habits.

This possibility is supported by the University of Minnesota researcher Jerica Berge. Although not part of the study, Berge confirms that children increase their risk of becoming overweight when parents pressure their children to eat or use restrictive means such as keeping food away from their children.  According to Berge, the introduction of a younger sibling tends to relax the parents' monitoring over the older child's eating pattern. This would then give the child the chance to learn to self-regulate his or her eating habit, an important overall factor in the weight trajectory of the child.

The recent study was done by following 697 U.S. children from birth to the age of 6. By the time the children reached 6, those without siblings have a markedly higher than average weight to height ratio when compared to those who had younger siblings. The study was published on March 11, 2016 in the Pediatrics.

According to a WebMD article, one in every five children in the U.S. is obese or overweight. The most common factors include unhealthy eating patterns, lack of physical activity and, to a certain degree, genetic predisposition. This is a particularly worrisome condition as it exposes young children to a higher risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, early heart disease and diabetes even at such young age. Like the soaring adult obesity problem in the U.S., policymakers are still trying to find a way how to effectively handle this health problem.

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