Researchers Examine Links between Obese Family Members

Often physicians compare the condition of obese and overweight children to their parents and siblings as an explanation for their weight.

One-third of American children are either overweight or obese, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often physicians compare the condition of these children to their parents and siblings as an explanation for their weight.

Some experts think parents who have weight issues sometimes struggle to identify the same problems in their offspring, or that obesity is a family issue. As a result, a recent study looked at whether family-directed intervention, rather than the direct intervention of a doctor, could reduce obesity.

Researchers from several prominent universities looked at clusters of obese parents and children to determine if child-parent resemblance varied by sociodemographic status (SES). Their findings were published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The investigators indicated that addressing obesity as a family issue could help, but knowing what factors influence families at various SES levels would be critical.

Using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III (NHANES: 1988-1994), the researchers identified individuals for whom complete data on body mass index (BMI), overweight and obesity status was available. They matched 4,958 parents with 6,765 children between the ages of 2 and 16 years and correlated parents’ and children’s statistics for different SES.

Parent-child resemblance in body weight status varied with child age, race/ethnicity, and SES. The authors suggested that once children reached puberty, their parent’s biological heritage had less influence as they made their own choices about diet or physical activity.

As peer pressure and concern with body image become more influential than the opinion of their parents, the parent-child resemblance in body weight becomes less pronounced. In addition, school food programs could also cause parent and child obesity profiles to diverge.

Minorities tended to have weaker parent-child resemblances than non-Hispanic whites. The researchers suggested this pattern may reflect minority children’s greater dependence on meals/foods obtained in school.

In higher SES families, children were more likely to be overweight than their parents, a finding the researchers attributed to the greater likelihood that both parents work outside of the home.

The authors also stressed the need for parents need to embrace exemplary dietary and exercise habits.