Sibling influence on childhood obesity may be greater than parents

Children with one or more obese siblings are at an increased risk for childhood obesity, even more so than having obese parents, according to a new study. The study, conducted by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Cornell University, and Duke University, examined how various family associations affect obesity.

The researchers focused on the link between sibling relationships and how it affects a child’s weight. They discovered a connection between parents and children as well as a correlation between having an obese sibling and the risk of childhood obesity.

Researchers surveyed adults from 10,244 households in the U.S. and discovered that the risk for childhood obesity varies based on the number of children in a household along with their gender. The study indicates that a child is 2.2 times more likely to be obese when his or her parents are obese, in a single child household.

Mark C. Pachucki, PhD, lead investigator, Mongan Institute for Health Policy, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a statement, “The family environment is known to exert a strong influence on the trajectory of children’s health, and prior research has done a great deal to illuminate connections between parent and offspring obesity. Others have also found that obesity is also often correlated between siblings. Our study extends these findings by integrating data on both parent-child, and sibling relationships. We found that obesity status of a younger child’s older sibling is more strongly associated with a child’s obesity than is the parent’s obesity status.”

Dr. Pachucki continued, “This association is independent of a host of socioeconomic and demographic attributes, health behaviors, and overall health status.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010.