Impact of divorce on children can lead to obesity later in life


Children from broken homes are more likely to be obese when they reach adulthood.

New research from Florida State University found that unpredictable childhoods, which can be caused by factors including divorce, crime and frequent moves, can lead to a higher risk of being overweight later in life as it causes people to overeat. Adults who came from stable homes tend not to excessively eat.

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Led by Professor Jon Maner, who wanted to look into ways to prevent obesity, the team used analytical framework Life History Theory, a well-established behavioural science barometer.

Life History Theory, which is rooted in the idea that people have a limited amount of reproductive energy in their lives and the way they use that energy is influenced by the amount of structure they experience during childhood, has previously been used to predict a wide range of behaviours, but this study marks the first time it’s been used to look at obesity.

“Experiencing an unpredictable environment in childhood sensitizes people to the idea that it’s difficult to plan for the future because if you don’t know what’s around the next corner, you live for the now,” Maner said. “They end up focusing on short-term rather than long-term goals and they’re not good at delaying gratification.”

He goes on to explain unpredictable childhoods can cause a “fast-life-history strategy” for adults, which makes them live for the now and seek immediate gratification.

“If you don’t know where the next meal is coming from, it would make sense to eat what you can now,” Maner continued. “But people with a slow-life-history strategy (stemming from a predictable childhoods) feel the future is more certain, and they intuitively know where their next meal will come from. They are inclined to listen to their body and eat based on their current needs.”

Results have been published journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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