Only-children more likely to be obese than children with siblings

Findings anecdotally point to busyness of having multiple children forcing parents to be more organized, better plan their families’ meals, and eat out less


Philadelphia, November 6, 2019

Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child. A new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, published by Elsevier, found that only-children, who researchers refer to as “singletons,” had less healthy family eating practices, beverage choices, and total Healthy Eating Index 2010 score—coming in lower on three out of the 12 areas measured. They also had significantly lower total scores across weekdays, weekends, and on average, indicating there are both individual and collective differences in eating patterns between the groups.

“Nutrition professionals must consider the influence of family and siblings to provide appropriate and tailored nutrition education for families of young children,” said lead author Chelsea L. Kracht, PhD, who completed the research alongside Dr. Susan Sisson at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK, USA. “Efforts to help all children and families establish healthy eating habits and practices must be encouraged,” added Dr. Kracht.

Data was self-reported in daily food logs kept by mothers over the course of three days – two weekdays and one weekend day. Teachers kept logs by proxy for any food children ate while at school. Mothers also completed the Family Nutrition and Physical Activity questionnaire to evaluate typical family eating behaviors like food and beverage choice.

Researchers found mothers of singleton children were more likely to be obese themselves. Moreover, maternal BMI had a much stronger connection to child BMI percentile and waist circumference percentile than singleton status. Maternal BMI did not significantly contribute to overall eating patterns but did contribute to empty calories.

The study only looked at mothers and children, and so could not speak to the impact of fathers’ eating patterns but the results were independent of marital status.

The study also found that time spent in away-from-home care, like school and daycare, was not connected to children’s eating patterns. This points to the difference coming from inside the household, including a difference in how frequently the family eats in front of the television (family eating practices score) and sugary drinks consumption (beverage choices score), which differed between groups in the study.

“Healthier eating behaviors and patterns may result from household-level changes rather than peer exposure, as peer exposure is also present in away-from-home care,” Dr. Kracht said.

Dr. Kracht and her colleagues are continuing their research, looking specifically into household and family dynamics and how they influence children’s eating behavior, physical activity, sleep, and other factors contributing to obesity.

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Notes for editors
The article is “Family Eating Behavior and Child Eating Patterns Differences Between Children With and Without Siblings,” by Chelsea L. Kracht, PhD; Susan B. Sisson, PhD, RD, CHES, FACSM; Emily Hill Guseman, PhD; Laura Hubbs-Tait, PhD; Sandra H. Arnold, PhD; Jennifer Graef, PhD, RD/LD; and Allen Knehans, PhD (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2019.08.004). It appears in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, volume 51, issue 10 (Nov-Dec 2019), published by Elsevier.

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or jnebmedia@Elsevier.com to obtain a copy. To schedule an interview with the author(s), please contact susan-sisson@ouhsc.edu.

An audio podcast featuring an interview with Chelsea Kracht, PhD, and other information for journalists are available at https://www.jneb.org/content/media. Excerpts from the podcast may be reproduced by the media with permission from Eileen Leahy.

About the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB)
The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB), the official journal of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB), is a refereed, scientific periodical that serves as a resource for all professionals with an interest in nutrition education and dietary/physical activity behaviors. The purpose of JNEB is to document and disseminate original research, emerging issues, and practices relevant to nutrition education and behavior worldwide and to promote healthy, sustainable food choices. It supports the society’s efforts to disseminate innovative nutrition education strategies, and communicate information on food, nutrition, and health issues to students, professionals, policy makers, targeted audiences, and the public.

The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior features articles that provide new insights and useful findings related to nutrition education research, practice, and policy. The content areas of JNEB reflect the diverse interests of health, nutrition, education, Cooperative Extension, and other professionals working in areas related to nutrition education and behavior. As the Society's official journal, JNEB also includes occasional policy statements, issue perspectives, and member communications. www.jneb.org

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