Changing Family Affects Childhood Obesity

Simpsons in couch

The post-WWII “baby boom” generation learned to read from textbooks starring Dick and Jane, a pair of siblings who also had a little sister, a mother and father, a cat and a dog. Over the past half-century, families have changed, and consequently, households have changed. In the old days, a family would more likely be a married couple with several children, within a predictable age range. Two grownups, getting an early start and presenting a united front, can enforce mandatory dinner for the entire family at the same time every night.

Childhood Obesity News interjects that example because a reliable family-togetherness time over a shared meal is one of the suggestions often made when obesity prevention is the topic.

But today’s household could be any configuration, such as a family where one working mother has a couple of older kids from her first marriage, and a couple of much younger kids from a second marriage that didn’t last. Good luck to such a valiant mom in her efforts to provide family-oriented meals. Time journalist Belinda Luscombe writes:

Families headed by single moms‚ whether divorced, widowed or never married, are now almost as numerous as families that have a stay-at-home mom and a breadwinner dad — about 22% and 23%, respectively.

Those numbers came from University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, who has studied the American family for years. He is the author of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, which discusses some sociologically significant phenomena, most notably the decline of marriage.

In 1960, about 65% of households had married couples at their heads, and all the husband-and-wife pairs included one male and one female. Nowadays, only 45% of households are headed by married couples. A lot of people identify with families they have found or chosen rather than with genetic relatives. A lot more people live alone by choice. About as many children are cared for by grandparents as by single fathers. About 7% of kids are cared for by cohabiting, unmarried parents. Cohen writes:

Different families have different child-rearing challenges and needs, which means we are no longer well-served by policies that assume most children will be raised by married-couple families, especially ones where the mother stays home throughout the children’s early years.

Another trend Cohen spotlights is the giant increase of women doing paid work outside the home. In childhood obesity terms, working mothers don’t have a lot of time for thoughtful shopping or cooking from scratch. Keeping the family’s diet on track takes real dedication, and the demands on parents are multitudinous. Families are complex, and the typical or stereotypical family is an illusion. Bottom line, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work, and any policies designed to alleviate childhood obesity must take that as a given.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “There Is No Longer Any Such Thing as a Typical Family,” Time.com, 09/04/14
Image by Desiree Onievas Lopez

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