Fatherless and fat

Nicole M. King
Apr 22 2015
Reproduced with Permission
Family Edge

The News Story - Getting to the core of childhood obesity

As rates of childhood obesity continue to soar, health professionals scramble to recommend policies that would address this serious health issue. Dr. David Feinberg, President of the UCLA Health System, is the most recent to opine on the need for new solutions.

"It's time to tackle obesity and put a stop to this growing trend," Feinberg wrote recently for U.S. News and World Report. UCLA Health Systems is "joining forces with the Sound Body Sound Mind Foundation, which focuses on providing under-resourced schools state-of-the-art fitness equipment and a whole new fitness curriculum." As part of a host of strategies, the program installs fitness centers on a number of L.A. campuses and also provides training instructors, who show students that "exercise can be fun." The program, claims Feinberg, is reaping results: already, there has been a 60% increase in the number of students who can pass the California physical fitness exam.

And while such programs may indeed show promising results, what they also display is the dramatic amount of time, effort, and funds that other institutions must pour into children when family structure breaks down.

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 parsed 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.