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Family Instability, Gender, and Overweight Status in Young Adulthood

Archived Abstract of Former PSC Researcher

Download PDF versionHernandez, Daphne C., Emily Pressler, Cassandra Dorius, and Katherine Stamps Mitchell. 2012. "Family Instability, Gender, and Overweight Status in Young Adulthood." PSC Research Report No. 12-768. August 2012.

Purpose: Experiencing family instability during adulthood has an immediate impact on adult women and men's weight, with adult women gaining weight and adult men losing weight. It is unclear whether experiencing family instability during childhood has a negative accumulating impact on adult weight, placing females at risk for being overweight in young adulthood. We assessed whether female and male young adults differ in overweight status based on the family instability experienced during childhood.

Methods: Data from the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 was used to estimate the odds of being overweight in young adulthood based on family instability experienced during childhood (n = 5139). Family instability was measured by young adults' exposure to family structure transitions from birth to the age of 18 as defined by mother's formation and dissolution of romantic unions. Body mass index was directly assessed in young adulthood.

Results: A series of logistic regression models predicted the odds of young adults being overweight or obese. Results indicate that cumulative family structure transitions during childhood increase the odds for young adult females born to married mothers to be overweight by 19%. Family instability, however, does not increase the probability for young adult females nor males born to single mothers to be overweight.

Conclusions: Experiencing family instability has a negative accumulating impact on the weight status of young adult females born to married mothers. Interventions during childhood are important to prevent females who experience multiple family transitions from becoming overweight as young adults.

Country of focus: United States.

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