Is Your Brother, Not Your Mother, Influencing Your Weight?

Health Writer

A recent study suggests that siblings may have a greater impact on your weight than your parents.   Previous studies suggest:

  • If mom is overweight during pregnancy, offspring may have a higher risk of developing obesity and other health issues.
  • If both parents are overweight or obese, then offspring have a higher risk of developing obesity and diabetes.
  • Parents' lifestyle choices impact the health and weight of their children.
  • Your friends' behaviors can impact your weight and lifestyle choices.

A new report now suggests that your risk of being obese if a sibling is obese is more than double, compared to the risk if a parent is overweight or obese.   And the risk is even higher if the sibling is the same gender.   The study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, evaluated weight relationships between parent and child and between siblings.   It seems pretty intuitive that if parents have weight issues, then their behaviors with regards to exercise, shopping and stocking the refrigerator and pantry, as well as cooking techniques, would all impact and help to determine their kids' weight and lifestyle choices.   Researchers entered this new study believing that the parents' impact on a child's weight future, would be much stronger than that of siblings.   They appear to have been wrong.

In fact, the sub-study of the Family Health Habits Study, a nationwide survey of parents that looked at links between family member health in the context of socio-economic backgrounds, demographics, levels of activity, and food environment, found that:

  • In families with one child, an obese parent more than double the risk of the child's obesity (this was mitigated if the child was very active physically).
  • In families with two children, having an obese sibling increased the other child's risk of obesity by five-fold.
  • If the two children in the family were of the same gender, then there was an even greater risk of obesity - 8.6 times for females, and 11.4 times for males.
  • The only parameter that seemed to impact (lower) obesity risk was physical activity.

Researchers postulate that younger siblings look up to their older brothers and sisters, and try to spend as much time as possible with their older counterparts.   So whatever food and exercise behaviors are being displayed by these older siblings are likely to be embraced by the younger children.   This new study certainly confirms that all family members play a role in the health and lifestyle choices of family members.

At stake is the overall well-being of family members.   I personally value this information, and embraced it as a Health Coach when I wrote, _The 4 Habits of Healthy Families. _ This report confirms the influence of parents and, especially, of siblings on family health, weight and lifestyle habits.   Since exercise seemed to offset the obesity risk, a new study suggesting that genetics may partly influence how much we exercise, means we also need to be aware of how much or little we are motivated to get moving

Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience.Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts.Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch?  Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at

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