Cut your little brother some slack – he might have done your health a world of favors while you were growing up! Icky and gross as he may have been at the time, it appears that all the stress and annoyance may well have been worth it…sort of! Even if he tested your last nerve on a daily basis…well, you might want to thank him for keeping you in shape.
The reason being that statistically speaking, those who grow up with a young brother or sister are less likely to have become obese by the time they start first grade. According to the results of a new study, children from families with only one child may be up to 300% more likely to become obese by first grade, when compared to those with a kid brother born three or four years after them.
It’s not to say that kids without siblings are doomed to obesity or that kid brothers and sister can prevent it in their own right, but it nonetheless suggests something of a shift in lifestyle choices and living habits when families welcome a second child into the brood.
“It is possible that when there is a younger sibling in the family, a child might become more active – for example running around more with their toddler sibling,” said Dr. Julie Lumeng, pediatrics and public health researcher at the University of Michigan and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor and lead author of the study.
“Maybe families are more likely to take the kids to the park when there is a younger sibling, or maybe the child is less likely to be sedentary, watching TV, when there is a younger sibling to engage them in more active pretend play.”
Experts also believe that a change in mealtimes and eating habits in general after the arrival of a second child may contribute to the decreased risk of obesity. When there is only one child in the family, parents may fall into the trap of being overly-focused on what their child eats and doesn’t eat, applying too much pressure and ultimately leading to poor eating habits.
“When parents use restrictive (e.g. keep food from children) or pressure-to-eat feeding practices (e.g. try to get kids to eat more food),children have an increased risk of being overweight,” commented University of Minnesota researcher, Jerica Berge.
“When a new child is introduced, parents may relax their preoccupation with the older child’s eating behaviors, allowing the older child to respond to their own satiety cues and self-regulate their eating,”
“This self-regulation may lead to a healthier weight trajectory for the child with a sibling compared to a child without a sibling.”
The study involved monitoring just under 700 children from the United States from the day of their birth until they were six-years-old. By the time they were 6, it was noted that those with younger siblings were much less likely to be overweight or obese by the time they started first grade, than the kids that came from only-child families.
The authors did however note that the findings of the study cannot be regarded as conclusive, having failed to take into account a number of additional factors such as the family’s economic situation, divorce and birth weight.