Recent research shows that welcoming a younger sibling in the family before first grade may have unexpected health benefits for their older siblings.
U.S. researchers at the University of Michigan found that children of the age 2-4 who become older brothers or sisters were at a lower risk of becoming obese by first grade than children with no siblings.
On the other hand, children with no younger brothers and sisters were thrice as likely to become obese before going to school as their luckier peers.
The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, involved nearly 700 U.S. kids.
Dr. Julie Lumeng, lead author of the study and pediatrician with the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, noted that kids with younger siblings are less prone to become overweight than kids with no siblings, or those having older siblings.
Dr. Lumeng acknowledged that her team was not able to fully understand how the birth of a sibling affects the other siblings’ health and risk of becoming overweight. But the recent study is the first to monitor young children’s body mass index and find a relationship between childhood obesity risk and birth of a sibling in their family.
Study authors believe that the newly found link may be due to the way parents feed their kids after a new child is born. Researchers explained that children develop persistent eating habits around age 3. So, changing their diet at that critical age could have a long-lasting impact on their health.
Scientists also speculate that the older siblings become more active once a sibling is born. Many older siblings would rather engage in games with their younger siblings than watch TV or use a tablet. And this could contribute to a healthier BMI later on.
Dr. Lumeng called for more research into the way younger siblings affect other kids’ dietary habits and physical activity, even if the changes are only subtle. She noted that as obesity soars in the country, a simple strategy as having another child to help other siblings grow up healthy is most welcome.
Yet, the recent research adds up to the mounting evidence that younger siblings bring various health benefits to their older brothers and sisters. A 2014 study had showed that younger siblings are associated with a better mental health in other siblings. Plus, kids who have a brother or sister are more resilient to harder situations that may occur in life than kids with no siblings.
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