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Wellness

The Food Disadvantage of Being an Only Child

Study shows those with siblings have better eating habits

Lempert Report

A recent study looked at the eating habits and body weight of only children and found they have less healthy eating habits and beverage choices than families with multiple children.

In 1986, Toni Falbo, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, did a meta-analysis of 200 studies on only children and found they excelled in achievement, intelligence and character over children with siblings, especially those with older brothers or sisters.  

However these only children, or “singletons” as researchers like to call them, may be at a higher risk for obesity than children who have siblings.  

A recent study looked at the eating habits and body weight of only children and found they had less healthy eating habits and beverage choices than families with multiple children.

"Several studies, in addition to this one, have shown that only children are more likely to be overweight or obese," said Dr. Natalie Muth, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Obesity.    

In the past few decades, studies in Europe and China began to look at a link between weight gain and being an only child; some also looked at birth order.  

The single-child policy in place in China between 1980 and 2016 gave researchers a gold mine of data. For example, one study of nearly 20,000 Chinese singletons found only sons in urban China were 36% more likely to be overweight and 43% more likely to be obese than sons who had siblings.  

Other studies found being an only or last-born child was associated with obesity, possibly due to the ways that parents behaved during mealtimes: less praise, more association with food as a reward and more negative control over food choices. In the current study, researchers found the mothers of only children were more likely to be overweight themselves.  

"My research also shows they are more likely to eat fast foods frequently," Falbo said. "In terms of the whole research area of obesity, it's known that the more home-cooked meals you eat as opposed to eating fast food, the less likely you are to have a high body mass index."

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