The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Friday, March 20, 2015 (Volume 4: Issue: 11)

The Topic: Fast Food vs. Family in Obesity Debate 

The News Story: Ban on Certain Fast Food Restaurants in South LA Had No Effect on Obesity Rates

The New Research: The Roots of Obesity

The News Story: Ban on Certain Fast Food Restaurants in South LA Had No Effect on Obesity Rates

Banning McDonald’s and Burger King won’t do much for curbing obesity, according to a story out of Los Angeles

Reports the Huffington Post, city officials passed an ordinance in 2008 that “limited the opening or expansion” of fast-food restaurants in an area plagued by high obesity rates and poor health. Seven years later, a Rand Corp. senior economist reported that the law had “no meaningful effect. . . . There's no evidence that diets have improved more in South LA. Obesity and overweight rates have not fallen.”

City officials protest that such transformations will take time, and that the area has seen an increase in farmers’ markets and community gardens. But research suggests that it will take far, far more than prohibitive zoning to encourage Americans to eat well again.

(Source: Alicia Chang, “Ban on Certain Fast Food Restaurants in South LA Had No Effect on Obesity Rates,” The Huffington Post, March 20, 2015.)


The News Story: The Roots of Obesity

The media regularly report on the alarming rise of childhood obesity in the United States. Unfortunately—but predictably—these reports rarely mention family disintegration as a cause of the epidemic. Now a new study by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles has shown that the retreat from family life fosters childhood obesity in two ways—not only by cutting children’s ties to their father (as other studies have concluded), but also by denying them the companionship of siblings.

Statistical analysis of the data established that “family structure was significantly associated with the obesity rate.” In each grade, children from single-mother families had higher rates of obesity than children from two-parent families. When the researchers re-examined their data in a more sophisticated model that took into account background characteristics such as race, household income, and maternal education, the tie between family structure and obesity fell below the threshold of statistical significance for kindergarten and the third grade. However, even in this sophisticated model, the tie between family structure and childhood obesity remained significant for the fifth grade.

Further analysis revealed that it is not just the absence of a father that tends to make children obese; the absence of siblings also fosters obesity. “In every grade,” the researchers report, “we found that children with no siblings had higher BMI [Body Mass Index] and a higher probability of being obese than children with siblings.”

Combining their two findings, the researchers interpret their analysis as “strong evidence that children who lived with a single mother and especially children who had no siblings were at the greatest risk for childhood obesity.”

While they acknowledge that many social scientists believe that “additional children in the family may dilute available parental time and resources,” the researchers suggest, “Siblings may also serve as a stimulus for child-to-child interactions, cooperative play, or activities that increase the time each child devotes to physical activity. Older siblings may even serve as role models or share the caretaking role with parents.”

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson, “New Research,” The Family in America, Spring 2011, Vol. 25 Number 2. Study: Amanda M. White and Constance T. Gager, “Idle Hands and Empty Pockets?” Youth & Society 39 [2007]: 75-111)