Family structure and childhood obesity, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten Cohort

Prev Chronic Dis. 2010 May;7(3):A50. Epub 2010 Apr 15.


Introduction: Little is known about the effect of family structure on childhood obesity among US children. This study examines the effect of number of parents and number of siblings on children's body mass index and risk of obesity.

Methods: We conducted a secondary data analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), which consists of a nationally representative cohort of children who entered kindergarten during 1998-1999. Our analyses included 2 cross-sectional outcomes and 1 longitudinal outcome: body mass index (BMI) calculated from measured height and weight, obesity defined as BMI in the 95th percentile or higher for age and sex, and change in BMI from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Results: Other things being equal, children living with single mothers were more likely to be obese by fifth grade than were children living with 2 parents (26% vs 22%, P = .05). Children with siblings had lower BMI and were less likely to be obese than children without siblings. We also found that living with a single mother or no siblings was associated with larger increases in BMI from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Conclusion: Children from single-mother families and, especially, children with no siblings are at higher risk for obesity than children living with 2 parents and children with siblings. These findings highlight the influential role that families play in childhood obesity. Additionally, they suggest that health care providers should consider the structure of children's families in discussions with families regarding childhood obesity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology