Marriage, Obesity In Children Linked, Rice University Study Finds

Seventy-two percent of African-American children are raised in single-parent households, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while the impact of single-parenthood, which reportedly entered the public consciousness around 1965, can be seen in performance at school, rates of imprisonment and poverty, and drug use, regardless of race, a new study by researchers at Rice University says the consequences of living with an unwed mother has expanded into another area -- children's waistlines.

In a study of more than 10,000 children across the U.S., sociologist Rachel Kimbro and her colleagues at Rice found that children living in a traditional two-parent married household are less likely to be obese (17 percent obesity rate) than children living with cohabitating parents, who have a 31 percent obesity rate. The obesity rate is even higher for children living with an adult relative (29 percent), single mother (23 percent) and cohabitating stepparent family (23 percent), the report notes.

But there was an exception: Children living with single dads or in households with married stepparents. According to the study, which was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, those with a father or stepparent in the picture had an obesity rate of 15 percent, even lower than those in a traditional two-parent home.

"Previous research has shown that single-father households tend to have more socio-economic resources than single-mother households," Kimbro said in a release. "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."

Interestingly, a December 2012 report by the CDC noted that among young, low-income children, obesity rates actually appear to be on the decline.

But others say socio-economic status isn't the only factor contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic and the disproportionate number of minorities affected by it.

Last month, researchers from Dartmouth's Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Sciences (iQBS) and the Center for Genomic Medicine revealed that genetic makeup may also be at play.

According to their study, people with African ancestry possess three genetic variations that work in concert with environmental factors to impact body mass index -- genes unique to the African-American set. The result: a greater likelihood of having a high BMI or becoming obese.