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Divorce Linked to Childhood Obesity, Study Reports

Update Date: Jun 05, 2014 10:21 AM EDT

Divorce can have negative effects on children's cognitive health. In a new study, researchers examined the potential effects that divorce has on children's physical health. The team from Norway found that children of divorced parents were more likely to be overweight or obese when compared to children whose parents were still married or were cohabitating.

The researchers examined around 3,100 third grade students from 127 schools in Norway. The children were enrolled in the 2010 Norwegian Child Growth Study, a national study that collected information on the children's height, weight and waist circumference at the average age of eight. The researchers classified children who were overweight or obese based on the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF). A waist to height ratio of 0.5 or higher defined children's abdominal fat. The team grouped the children based on several factors, such as gender, parental marital status, parents' education level, ethnicity and area of residence.

Overall, 19 percent of the children were overweight and 8.9 percent of the children were abdominally obese. The researchers found that a higher percentage of the 1,537 girls were overweight or obese in comparison to the percentage of the 1,629 boy that were also overweight or obese. There were no differences in abdominal obesity between the two sexes.

However, when the researchers accounted for divorce, they found that boys with divorced parents were 63 percent more likely to be overweight or obese and 104 percent more likely to be abdominally obese when compared to boys of married parents. Girls had similar rates as boys, but the numbers were not as pronounced.

The researchers calculated that children of divorced parents were 54 percent more likely to be overweight or obese and 89 percent more likely to be abdominally obese in comparison to children with married parents. The team found that children who lived in a household with both parents that never married had similar overweight and obesity rates as children living with married parents.

The study, "Parental marital status and childhood overweight and obesity in Norway: a nationally representative cross-sectional study," was published in the journal, BMJ Open.

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