Only children are 50 per cent more likely to be overweight: study

Nadine Bells
Shine On

A new study suggests that children without siblings are 50 per cent more likely to be overweight than those with siblings.

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and other academic institutions, analyzed more than 12,000 children ages 2 through 9 from eight European countries.

The study, published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes, assessed each child's calculated BMI, surveyed their parents on the child's diet, how often the child played outdoors and his/her television-watching habits. Researchers then controlled for variables sucks as birth weight and weight of their parents.

"Our study shows that only children play outside less often, live in households with lower levels of education more often, and are more likely to have televisions in their bedrooms," says Monica Hunsbereger, a researcher from the University of Gothenburg.

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Even with controls in place, researchers determined that a risk factor for childhood obesity was having no siblings.

"But even when we take these factors into account, the correlation between siblings and obesity is strong. Indeed, being an only child appears to be a risk factor in and of itself,"  says Hunsbereger.

An earlier study shows a link between screen time and body weight. Experts advised setting technology-use boundaries and encouraging one hour of physical activity a day.

As childhood obesity is a complicated issue with many risk factors, this study will be followed up with further research.

Also see: Study finds sleeping in on weekends does more harm than good

"The fact that only children are more susceptible to obesity may be due to differences in individual family environment and family structure that we were not able to measure in sufficient detail. To better understand the casualty, a follow-up study of these families will start next year," researcher Lauren Lissner concludes.

In Canada, over 26 per cent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, the Childhood Obesity foundation reports. According to Healthy Canadians, that number has nearly tripled in the last 25 years.

Apart from giving your sole offspring a sibling to play with, here are some other strategies for fighting childhood obesity.