You already know that divorce can take a toll on your child's emotional health. Now, new research shows that it can also affect his physical health by making him more at risk for excessive weight gain — and boys are especially susceptible.
Researchers say stress and unhealthy coping strategies may be to blame, because kids may enter a cycle of emotional eating and decreased activity. Boys may feel additional stress as they attempt to take on the role of "man of the house."
Other contributing factors include less supervision at home, single parents being too time-pressed to prepare nutritious meals, and parents indulging kids with decadent foods during weekend visits.
To conduct their study, which was published June 4 in BMJ Open, researchers looked at 3,000 third-graders in Norway and found that boys from divorced families were 63 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than the boys whose parents stayed married. Overall, 19 percent of the children studied were overweight and nearly 9 percent were obese.
The researchers cautioned that while they found an association between divorce and weight gain in children of both genders, they cannot say definitively that divorce is the cause without knowing lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise habits.
David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Connecticut, says that the risk of weight gain in kids after divorce is one more piece of the obesity epidemic — but it's not the sole factor.
"For the majority of people living in the modern world — adults and children alike — getting fat is easy and remaining lean is hard," he says.
Dr. Katz adds that divorce likely compounds a vulnerability to obesity, and specific attention to this issue might help empower those affected to resist temptation and obvious pitfalls. Whatever their composition, he says that families need to "eat healthy and be active as a matter of routine."