Background: Comparative data of parental separation and childhood overweight has not been available before across the Nordic countries. The aim of this study was to examine the within-country prevalence and association between parental cohabitation and overweight in Nordic children.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of 2-17-year-old children was conducted in 2011, titled: "NordChild". A random sample of 3,200 parents in each of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden were invited to participate in the study with parents of 6,609 children accepting to give answers about their children's health and welfare including information on height and weight of each child and parental cohabitation (response rate 41.5%). The group differences in prevalence and adjusted odds ratio (OR) for overweight, with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI) were performed in children whose parents lived separately. Additionally, a missing data analysis was performed to determine whether the adjusted estimates might result from confounding or selection bias.
Results: A significant difference was observed in Iceland between children whose parents live separately compared to those who live with both parents (difference: 9.4%, 95% CI: 2.8; 15.9) but no such difference was observed in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. No significant odds of overweight were observed in children whose parents lived separately compared to children in normal weight at the time of study; Denmark: OR 1.03 (95% CI: 0.42; 2.53), Finland: OR 1.27 (95% CI: 0.74; 2.20), Iceland: OR 1.50 (95% CI: 0.79; 2.84), Norway: OR 1.46 (95% CI: 0.81; 2.62), and Sweden: 1.07 (95% CI: 0.61; 1.86). The missing data analysis indicated that the findings in Norway, Finland and Iceland were partly observed due to selection effects, whereas the adjustment in Denmark was due to confounding. The crude OR for overweight was higher in the 2-9-year-old group than in the 10-17-year-old group whose parents lived separately in Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
Conclusions: No association between parental cohabitation and overweight in Nordic children was found. Our finding of greater prevalence of overweight in Icelandic children whose parents live separately may be an indication that the welfare system in Iceland is separating from the other Nordic countries.