Family breakdown linked to obesity

Nicole M. King
11 November 2013
Reproduced with Permission
Family Edge

The News Story - More US girls developing breasts before age nine

A Pediatrics study released online Monday reveals that girls are becoming women faster than ever before. Reports Reuters, "Girls are developing breasts at younger and younger ages, a new study confirms. And upward trends in childhood obesity seem to be playing a major role."

The study - which followed more than 1,200 girls in the San Francisco, Cincinnati, and New York City areas - revealed that "African American girls started getting breasts just before they turned nine, on average. Among white girls the average age was about nine and a half - a few months earlier than in the 1990s." The researchers tied rising rates of childhood obesity to this new trend and claimed the need for more research, as early onset of puberty is linked to having sex at a younger age, using drugs, depressive symptoms, and low self-esteem.

One other factor that the researchers tie to early breast development is "family stress," and with good cause. Not only does living with a stepfather or stepbrother increase early onset of puberty, but family breakdown has also been tied to ever-rising levels of childhood obesity, the supposed primarily culprit in this story.

The New Research - Fatherless and fat

With good reason, public-health officials have expressed deep concern in recent years about the growing epidemic of obesity among children and adolescents. For some reason, these officials never get around to talking about how family disintegration has helped incubate this epidemic. But new research from Ireland clarifies the linkage between childhood obesity and family breakdown. This linkage stands out clearly in the statistical data recently passed by public-health scholars at University College Cork and the Economic and Social Research Institute at Sir John Rogerson's Quay.

In analyzing data collected from a national representative sample of 8,568 nine-year-old children, the researchers for this study conclude - unsurprisingly - that "parental obesity is a predominant risk factor for childhood obesity." But these researchers also identify a number of "family factors . . . [that] play a role in determining parent weight." Household socioeconomic status emerges as one of these factors. But so, too, does family structure: "Children from one-parent families," report the researchers, "were found to be at significantly higher odds of overweight and obesity than children from two-parent families." Indeed, the data indicate that, compared to peers living in two-parent families, children in single-parent homes are almost half-again more likely to be obese (Odds Ratio of 1.47).

"Overall, 18.1% of children from single-parent families with a normal weight parent were overweight or obese," the researchers find. "This increased to 34.1% when the parent was overweight and 41% when the parent was obese."

The Irish scholars plausibly interpret their findings in light of previous "research [that] suggests that one-parent families may have greater levels of social deprivation," deprivation that "may play a role in explaining this [pattern of childhood obesity]." Such deprivation defines the context for the researchers' call for "broadly based population-level interventions targeting the social, economic and cultural dimensions of overweight and obesity." Unquestionably, "the cultural dimensions" of the obesity epidemic would include those elements of culture driving the dangerous retreat from marriage on both sides of the Atlantic.