Children who do not have brothers and sisters have a 50% higher chance of being obese or overweight than children who have siblings.

12,700 children from 8 European countries, including Sweden, were analyzed by researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and other universities.

The trial, published in Nutrition and Diabetes journal, was part of the Identification and prevention of Dietary- and lifestyle-induced health EFfects In Children and infantS, a European program designed to analyze how obesity, lifestyle and diet affect kids between the ages of 2 and 9.

During the study, the experts controlled for variables, such as weight of the parents, gender of the children, and their weight at the time of birth.

The experts associated the children’s calculated BMI (body mass index) with a survey taken by the parents which involved questions regarding how often children watched television and how much time they spend outdoors.

Monica Hunsbereger, a researcher from the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, commented:

“Our study shows that only children play outside less often, live in households with their lower levels of education more often, and are more likely to have television in their bedrooms. But even when we take these factors into account, the correlation between singleton status and overweight is strong. Being an only child appears to be a risk factor for overweight independent of the factors we thought might explain the difference.”

According to the report, upwards of 22 million kids in Europe are overweight, and the obesity rates of children in southern countries such as Spain, Cyprus and Italy are higher than northern countries, including Sweden.

Common risk factors for obesity among children in general include:

  • Diet– The more calories a child consumes, the more he will weigh. Parents should keep a close watch on what their kids are eating, however, a recent study has determined that forcing or pressuring kids to eat significantly increases their risk of becoming obese
  • Physical activity-Kids should be getting an adequate amount of play time every day. Exercise will severely reduce the risk of children becoming obese.
  • Genetics – Research has proven that the highest risk factor for children becoming obese is when both of their parents struggle with weight issues as well.
  • Environment at home– Children tend to eat what their families are eating, hence the importance of good family meals.
  • Medical illness– Certain medical conditions, including cushing’s syndrome and hypothyroidism, can contribute to obesity in kids.
  • Psychological factors– Stress and depression can lead to obesity among children, because some children use food as a way to “escape” their problems.
  • Developmental factors– According to research, breast-feeding and other developmental factors may reduce the risk of obesity later in life, therefore, formula-feeding may increase the risk.

Lauren Lissner, also from Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, concluded:

“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.”

Written by Christine Kearney