Even though choosing to have more kids can require the dexterity and mental stamina of a master juggler, there’s plenty brilliant things to come from a sibling relationship that make it worth it for your children; easy company, healthy competition, loyal defence, firm friendship (between the fights, of course), and someone to blame when you’ve broken the window.
But there is one benefit to adding to your brood you’ve probably never considered – according to research, having a second child might offer surprising health benefits to your firstborn.
A University of Michigan study suggests that becoming an older brother or sister could help prevent your child from becoming overweight.
Observing 697 children for the study, researchers found that those who did not have siblings were three times more likely to be obese by the time they entered primary school. Conversely, children who became big brothers or sisters between the ages of two and four years old had the healthiest body weights.
“Research suggests that having younger siblings—compared with having older or no siblings—is associated with a lower risk of being overweight. However, we have very little information about how the birth of a sibling may shape obesity risk during childhood,” Julie Lumeng, M.D., a developmental and behavioural paediatrician at U-M’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the study’s senior author, said.
Explanations offered for this interesting connection between sibling dynamics and BMI include the theory that parents subconsciously administer different food patterns when they have younger children to feed as well. So if some unhealthy eating habits have crept in previously, a focus on good nutrition for the new baby can help reboot the diet of younger family members — bearing in mind that children build eating habits at around age three, so that particular window of opportunity is where the influence would be greatest.
Researchers also suggest that children with siblings tend to have more active play time—if they’re running around together (or engaged in battle) they’re having less sedentary time.
Another point is that as adults, we tend to eat when we’re bored. Or lonely. Kids are no different.
Obviously, there are alternate ways of keeping your child within the acceptable weight range without resorting to a more benign version of My Sister’s Keeper. If you instil good habits from a young age – healthy eating, an active lifestyle – and stick to them yourself, you’re setting your kid up for success.
In the early years, at least, parents, not peers, are children’s strongest role models.
A sibling is definitely not a prerequisite. (Although they are quite handy to have around. Sometimes.)