Solo Kids May Face a Bigger Battle with the Scale: Study Shows Higher Obesity Risk Without Siblings

If you’re the parent of an only child, you might’ve heard others suggest that your kid is more likely to be spoiled. But did you know that only children also face a higher risk of obesity? According to a study involving 12,700 children from eight European countries, kids without siblings are 50 percent more likely to be overweight or obese. The researchers examined factors such as diet, lifestyle, and obesity to understand their impact on the health of children aged 2 to 9 years. Interestingly, they found that only children tend to play outside less, live in households with lower education levels, and are more likely to have TVs in their bedrooms. Even when considering these factors, the link between singleton status and being overweight was strong. As Monica Hunsberger, a researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, who contributed to the study, says, “Being an only child appears to be a risk factor for overweight independent of the factors we thought might explain the difference.”

What causes the higher risk of obesity in only children?

Although the exact cause is unclear, researchers speculate that the environment in which only children grow up might play a significant role. For example, they might not have as many opportunities for outdoor play, receive more attention and material possessions from their parents, or have excessive exposure to screens. Additional factors like genetics, parental feeding styles, and family income could also contribute to this higher risk.

The importance of active play for all children

Regardless of whether a child is an only one or has siblings, active play is critical for their health. Engaging in physical activities like running, biking, or playing sports can help children maintain a healthy weight, boost their overall fitness, and lower their risk of developing chronic health issues later in life. The World Health Organization recommends that children and adolescents aged 5-17 should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily.

Encourage healthier habits

Parents can help their children adopt healthier habits by setting an example and providing opportunities for them to participate in physical activities and eat well-balanced meals. Here are some suggestions:

Limit screen time

Establish rules for screen time that apply to all family members, not just the children. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screen time for children younger than 18 months, and up to one hour of high-quality programming for children aged 2-5 years, but it’s a good idea to limit screen time for older kids as well.

Create opportunities for regular outdoor play

Make an effort to accompany your child to the park or encourage them to play with other children in the neighborhood. Encourage your child to participate in sports and other physical activities at school. You could also consider enrolling them in extracurricular activities such as swimming, dance or martial arts to further increase their active playtime.

Make healthy meals together

Involve your child in preparing and cooking nutritious meals as a way to teach them about healthy eating habits. This can also encourage them to try new foods, which can make them more open to eating a wider variety of fruits and vegetables.


While being an only child is linked to a higher risk of obesity, it does not mean that all only children are destined to become overweight. By promoting physical activities, modeling healthy habits, and encouraging a nutritious diet, parents can help their children maintain a healthy weight and lead an overall healthier lifestyle. It’s essential to remember that all children, regardless of their family situation, can benefit from these healthy habits.