There is a study for every significant life event. In this case researchers from San Francisco State University have identified that children from recently separated or divorced families are more likely to consume sugar-sweetened beverages. The increased risk has been attributed to stress, which exposes the children to a much higher risk for obesity later in life.
The risk can be prevented by initiating family routines which can protect children from developing unhealthy eating habits. Many parents, during a divorce, believe that allowing children unlimited access to junk food is of no significance. In reality unhealthy food can act as an emotional coping mechanism, setting up the child for a life time of health problems.
This particular study is one of the first to examine the real life eating habits of divorced and married families. The research participants consisted of parents and children in both married and divorced families who were asked to keep five day food diaries of their eating habits.
“When families separate, one of the things that is most impacted for kids is their day-to-day routines,” said Jeff Cookston, professor and chair of psychology at SF State and lead researcher on the study. “Children are looking for consistency in their family environment, and family routines provide that security and continuity.”
The research findings revealed that children whose parents were separated or recently divorced were much more likely to drink sugar-sweetened beverages than children whose parents are married. The major reason was attributed to ease and access. Drinking sugary beverages was associated with a quick fix for dealing stress.
“Rather than feeling hungry or having a glass of water, it’s easy during times of stress to turn to the quick, enjoyable experience of drinking a sugary beverage,” Cookston said. “Drinking sugary beverages is one of the two things, along with the increase in carbohydrate consumption, that we’ve identified as strongly associated with the obesity epidemic in the U.S.”
The researchers recommend family routines and activity.
Mauskopf SS, O’Leary AK, Banihashemi A, Weiner M, Cookston JT. Divorce and Eating Behaviors: A 5-Day Within-Subject Study of Preadolescent Obesity Risk. Childhood Obesity, March 2015 DOI: 10.1089/chi.2014.0053