The number of divorces in Norway doubled between 1975 and 2005. According to a new study, children of divorced parents are more often overweight. (Photo: Colourbox)

Divorce linked to obesity in children

Children of divorced parents have higher risk of obesity, according to a Norwegian study. Boys in particular are more likely to develop dangerous abdominal fat.

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The results come from a nationally representative child growth study, based on 3,100 eight-year-old children throughout Norway.

In divorced families, twice as many boys had abdominal obesity. Previous research has shown that abdominal obesity may be a risk factor for several diseases.

The researchers did not find the same difference in girls.

Unknown causes

The researchers point out that they have not investigated the causes of this link.

“It is probably related to both diet and physical activity, but we have not collected information on this”, says Anna Biehl, a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Public Health and the Center for Obesity at Vestfold Hospital.

“However, we have found that maternal education does not explain the differences”, Biehl continues in a statement.

What affects obesity?

This study is part of Anna Biehl’s doctoral research on various social factors that influence overweight and obesity in children, as well as the effects of societal changes.

The Norwegian family situation has been through major changes in recent decades, and the divorce rate doubled from 1975 to 2005.

A quarter of all Norwegian children spend all or parts of childhood with a single parent, or move regularly between two different homes, according to the study.

Other research has documented differences in diet and activity between families with divorced and married parents.

Although the data for the study is solid, the researchers note some weaknesses.

Among other things, they had no information on how long the parents had been divorced – the data is more of a snapshot.

In addition, the data does not indicate whether the children became overweight because there was a conflict in the family, or if they were overweight before the problems arose.

Pioneer study in Norway

Overall obesity was measured using BMI, and abdominal obesity was determined by dividing the height of the child by his or her waist measurement.

“For the first time we have a good study with objectively measured data of children from across the country,” Anna Biehl says.

This is the first time studies of the relationship between family structure and obesity has been conducted in this way in Norway.

Translated by: Lars Nygaard

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