Girls With Single Parents Twice as Likely to Be Obese

Researchers from Australia analyzed data of more than 3,500 children about their height, weight, diet, lifestyle, and their parents’ socioeconomic circumstances. And here’s what they discovered:

  • 9 percent of the children between five and 17 were obese
  • Obese children of both sexes were likely to consume take-away foods (e.g., fast food or takeout) at least twice a week, live in disadvantaged communities, and were being raised by one or two parents who were less-educated or unemployed
  • Obese children watched an average of at least two hours of TV each day and were less likely to participate in an organized sport
The latest news about single parenting isn’t great. (Photo: Getty Images)

But that’s where the strongest similarities ended. A dependency on prepackaged foods was one of the leading factors among obesity in both younger (between the ages of 5 and 11) and older (aged 12 to 17) boys. Meanwhile, girls of all ages were greatly affected by their parents’ marital status. Younger girls with single parents were more than twice as likely to be obese as girls living in two-parent households. And the older girls were three times more likely to suffer from a severe weight problem.

“We do not know why girls from single-parent households are more likely to be obese,” stated Peter O’Rourke, professor at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, in a press release. “More research is needed in this area.”

“The data would have the same results for kids in the United States, too,” Julie Upton, co-founder of Appetite for Health, tells Yahoo Beauty. “In fact, there are similar studies that have been conducted here that found the same things.”

For example, research conducted by medical investigators from California discovered that children from single-mother families — and especially children who were also without siblings — were at higher risk for obesity than children living with two parents and children with brothers and sisters.

Upton says there is also plenty of data that indicates females may cope with stress by self-soothing with food. One report from the American Psychological Association concluded that women are more likely to turn to eating as a way of dealing with stress than men, and nearly 20 percent more females admitted to consuming too much food or choosing unhealthy foods during tension-filled times.

Katherine Brooking, MD, RD, the other founder of Appetite for Health, tells Yahoo Beauty that financial burdens can play a critical role in childhood obesity. In 2015, researchers from the University of Southern California compiled the data from 17 studies and found that children with highly stressed mothers were at a greater risk of obesity. The reason: Maternal psychological stress — whether financial or social — can alter one’s parenting behavior (including lack of meal preparation and transportation to sporting activities), ultimately resulting in increased obesity risk.

“A parent might be working several jobs or have hours that leave a child alone during mealtimes, which could leave a child feeling lonely and without good guidance for what to eat,” she says. “So a child in this situation might be more likely to meet emotional needs with unhealthy foods or too much food.”

And then there’s the reality that 13.1 million children live in a food insecure household, according to the most current statistics from Feeding America. A lack of regular access to food can lead to poorer health among children, as well as difficulty in handling negative emotions or stress, say sociology researchers from Rice University.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that one child out of five in the U.S. is clinically obese, which has immediate and long-term impacts on physical, social, and emotional health. In order to combat this issue, Brooking offers these lifestyle and nutrition tips for parents with overweight or obese children.

Become a role model. “Make healthier food and fitness changes as a family,” she says. “Begin by reducing the amount of fast food and processed foods (i.e., cakes, cookies, and candy) and opting instead for simple meals filled with vegetables, as well as moderate portions of whole grains and lean protein.”

Do a little prepping. “Healthy eating can be easy and inexpensive with some advance prep,” advises Brooking. “Use your time off from work to grocery shop with your child and find simple, healthy recipes — there are loads online for free — that you can prepare in advance and heat up if you’re pressed for time on workdays.”

Ditch the sweet stuff. “Eliminate sugar sweetened beverages, such as sweetened teas, soda, and energy drinks,” she states. “Water is a free, no calorie option.”

Get the family moving. Find physical activities that you and your kids enjoy, whether it’s hiking up a nearby trail or dancing in your living room. “Exercise should be fun, not work!”

Set a bedtime schedule. “While research about the relationship between sleep and weight is ongoing, some studies link excess weight to lack of sleep in children and adults,” states Brooking.

Seek support. She suggests asking a trusted friend or relative to dine with your child at night if you cannot be home in time for dinner. “Having meals with an adult can help provide structure, emotional support, and healthier meals,” concludes Brooking.

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