In the fight against childhood obesity, there may be one unlikely weapon — a baby brother or sister. A new study by the University of Michigan reveals that (while they will always be annoying) younger siblings are good for your health. According to research published in the journal Pediatrics, children who had a sibling by the time they were between two and four years old showed a healthier body mass index (BMI) by the first grade. Only children were almost three times more likely to be overweight when they reached the first grade — the odds of being obese were 2.94 greater than their counterparts. The study involved 697 children from ten sites across the U.S., tracking their BMI trajectory over the first six years of life.
Unfortunately, the benefits may not necessarily extend to just any sibling. “Research suggests that having younger siblings — compared with having older or no siblings — is associated with a lower risk of being overweight. However, we have very little information about how the birth of a sibling may shape obesity risk during childhood,” the study's senior author Julie Lumeng, M.D., said in a press release. This means if you are the baby of the family, your older sibling may not have much effect on your childhood weight (regardless of how bossy they are).
According to the CDC, childhood obesity has doubled over the past 30 years; the effects of which can be dangerous and last into adulthood. Childhood obesity puts kids at risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even diabetes. They may also be more likely to suffer from psychological and social problems, such as isolating themselves from their peers, and low self-esteem. A healthy lifestyle rich in physical activity, play, and healthy eating habits is prescribed as the best way to lower risk of obesity. Becoming a big brother or sister may play a role in this, researchers infer.
Once a sibling is born, it is suggested that the older child might be more likely to engage in “active play” with the new partner, reducing time spent watching TV or other sedentary activities. Having a younger sibling may also affect the way parents feed their kids. Children develop long-term eating habits at around three years old, and this may be a key factor in maintaining healthy BMIs. However, to determine the exact impact a younger sibling has on lifestyle changes, more research must be done.
“Childhood obesity rates continue to be a great cause of concern. If the birth of a sibling changes behaviors within a family in ways that protect against obesity, these may be patterns other families can try to create in their own homes," adds Dr. Lumeng.
Having a younger sibling is amazing for so many reasons, though I didn't realize it at first. While other kids were begging their parents for a sibling, I loved basking in the glow of my mom and dad's undivided love and attention. Much to my chagrin, at three, my parents told me that I would soon have a baby brother — and that meant I’d have to learn to share. The horror! I cursed the fates and dreaded the day we’d have to welcome the new addition. However, once the squirmy new human about the size of a football with a tuft of black hair was born, I quickly grew to love him. Over the years, he has been the best person to play with, and fight with, and I am forever grateful to have such a cool companion. Now I have one more reason to be grateful, so shout out to my baby bro!
Siblings Day is next month, so take the time to show your little sib some love.