Single mothers are more likely to have obese children because ‘fathers keep their offspring slim with energetic and boisterous play’
- Youngsters whose mothers battle depression are also more at risk of obesity
- Those in dirty ‘unappealing homes’ can carry dangerous amounts of weight
- Being ‘confined’ to a playpen stops children being active enough to stay slim
Single mothers are more likely to have obese children, research suggests.
A study found youngsters who grow up without their fathers around are more at risk of carrying dangerous amounts of weight by the time they turn 21.
The researchers believe fathers are ‘instrumental in involving children in boisterous physical play’, which helps keep little ones slim.
Single mothers are more likely to have obese children, research suggests (stock)
The research was carried out by the University of California, San Diego, and led by Dr Patricia East, from the division of general pediatrics.
One in five children in the US are obese, which raises their risk of heart disease and carrying dangerous amounts of weight in later life, the researchers wrote in the journal Childhood Obesity.
And official data released in October revealed English children are fatter than ever, with a record number of 10-to-11 year olds now being classified as severely obese.
To determine what causes childhood obesity, the researchers measured the BMI of 1,000 youngsters in Chile when they were five, ten, 15 and 21 years old. The participants were taken from the Santiago Longitudinal Study.
Chile has the biggest obesity problem in South America, with 10 per cent of children at nursery and 18 per cent of six-to-seven year olds carrying dangerous amounts of weight, the study authors wrote.
The youngsters’ mothers rated how secure their children’s homes and family environments were at one and ten years old.
‘It is rare to have a study with longitudinal data at multiple times through childhood into the adult years, with a large sample [and] multiple factors possibly influencing obesity,’ Dr Tom Baranowski, editor of Childhood Obesity, said.
Results revealed the children whose fathers were not around during their upbringing were more likely to be obese at 21.
The researchers believe dads help keep youngsters active.
‘Because fathers are uniquely instrumental in involving children in boisterous, stimulating physical play, fathers lay the foundation for future physical activity and motor development,’ they wrote.
Having a mother with depression also raised the risk the youngsters would carry a dangerous amount of weight in their early twenties.
Perhaps surprisingly, there was a link between obesity and spending time in a playpen, living in a dirty home at one-year-old and having ‘few stimulating experiences at ten years’.
Being ‘confined’ to a playpen stops children being as active as they otherwise would, the researchers claim.
An ‘unappealing home environment’ – such as no pictures on the walls – and an absence of toys that help children learn, were also associated with being dangerously overweight.
The researchers hope their study will help target childhood obesity early by encouraging youngsters stay active through ‘stimulating and safe play’.
WHAT IS OBESITY? AND WHAT ARE ITS HEALTH RISKS?
Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.
A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.
Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age.
For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.
Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese.
The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.
This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.
Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.
Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK are taken up by a diabetes patient.
Obesity also raises the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK – making it the number one cause of death.
Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers.
This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.
Among children, research suggests that 70 per cent of obese youngsters have high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.
Obese children are also significantly more likely to become obese adults.
And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often more severe.
As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.