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Research findings

2014 research findings

More overweight children in families with divorced parents

Published Updated

barn, skole

Among children with divorced parents, there is a 50 per cent larger proportion with overweight or obesity compared with children with married parents, according to figures from the Child Growth Study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The causes of the development of overweight among children are complex and are not investigated in this study.

The figures from the Child Growth Study also show that there is more than twice the proportion with abdominal obesity among boys who have divorced parents compared to boys with married parents. The figures do not show similar differences in abdominal obesity among girls.

“The reason for these differences is probably related to both diet and physical activity but we have not collected data on this in this study. However, we did find that maternal education does not explain the differences,” says Anna Biehl, a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Public Health and the Centre for Morbid Obesity at Vestfold Hospital. The study is part of her doctoral thesis on socio-demographic factors that influence children's overweight and obesity.

Read the article in full text in BMJ open:

Is there a relationship between overweight and life changes in the children?

The researchers want to understand how ongoing changes in society and in childrens’ daily lives can be related to the development of overweight and obesity. Since 1975, the number of divorces has increased and a greater proportion of children today are living for much of their childhood with divorced parents.

Originally, the researchers had also planned to study the extent to which separation of cohabiting couples is linked to overweight and obesity in children. This group accounts for a large proportion of today’s parents. However, it was not possible to do this based on the available information, which is a weakness of the study.

Objective data from a nationally representative sample

The Child Growth Study is based on a nationally representative sample, where more than 3,100 eight year-olds (third-graders) from 125 schools and ten counties have participated. Public health nurses have measured their height, weight and waist circumference, and reported this to the researchers.

General overweight and obesity based on BMI (body mass index) and abdominal obesity are measured in the study. For information about abdominal obesity, the waist circumference is divided by the child's height. If the number is greater than 0.5, this is classified as abdominal obesity.

“For the first time we have a good study with objectively measured data of children from around the country. This has given us knowledge about factors that may affect how the prevalence of overweight and obesity are distributed among children in Norway. Studies of the relationship between family structure and overweight / obesity in children have not been done this way in Norway before,” says Anna Biehl.


Biehl A. et al (2014)Parental marital status and childhood overweight and obesity in Norway: a nationally representative cross-sectional study. BMJ Open2014;4:e004502 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004502