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Married Parents Are Linked to Lower Levels of Childhood Obesity

Update Date: May 23, 2013 03:32 PM EDT

People often say that marriage is good for children, but when they do, they typically discuss the benefits of increased stability and improved economic opportunities. In fact, the benefits of marriage may extend surprisingly to matters of health - and the waistline.

A recent study found that children who grow up in homes with their married parents are less likely than other children to be obese. This study was conducted by using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Birth Cohort, which has a sample of 10,400 children. The first interviews were conducted in children's homes at the age of nine months. The children were from a diverse range of socioeconomic backgrounds, with 46 percent belonging to racial or ethnic minorities, 25 percent living in low-income homes and 16 percent with mothers who had not received their high school diplomas.

Researchers found that 17 percent of children who grew up in homes with their married parents were obese. Comparatively, children who lived in homes with a cohabitating stepparent family had a 23 percent obesity rate, children who lived with single mothers had a 23 percent obesity rate, children living with an adult relative had a 29 percent obesity rate and children who lived with cohabitating parents had a 31 percent obesity rate. The exception to the rule were children who grew up in homes with single fathers or with married stepparents, who had an obesity rate of 15 percent.

"Previous research has shown that single-father households tend to have more socio-economic resources than single-mother households," study co-author Rachel Kimbro, associate professor of sociology at Rice University and director of the university's Kinder Institute Urban Health Program, said in a statement. "And since socio-economic status is the single greatest predictor of health, it serves to explain why children in single-father households may be less likely to be obese."

Still, according to the Daily Mail, these findings remained true even when researchers controlled for a number of factors, like diet, physical activity and socioeconomic status.

Childhood obesity is a significant health problem in the United States; nearly a third of children are considered to be obese. However, according to the Huffington Post, recent studies indicate that obesity is declining among low-income children.

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Research on Children.

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