Family Structure, Parents' Partner Instability, and Weight Gains and Losses from Childhood into Adolescence

Shannon E. Cavanagh, University of Texas at Austin
Chelsea Smith, University of Texas at Austin
Robert Crosnoe, University of Texas at Austin

Families are a primary context of physical development and therefore receive ample attention in health research and interventions targeting unhealthy aspects of body size in the early life course. Given recent growth in the diversity in family composition and in the prevalence of child overweight, this study explores associations of family structure and instability with increases and decreases in BMI, with special attention to how these associations vary from early childhood into adolescence. With longitudinal data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (n = 1,215), first difference models revealed that experiencing family instability and living in a single parent family were associated with weight gain in early adolescence. Living in a single parent family was also associated with weight loss in early childhood. These results suggest that the time following family transitions might be an ideal intervention point to promote healthy weight, especially among adolescents.

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Presented in Session 15: Family Structure, Parenting, and Child Well-Being