Studies have suggested that number of siblings and birth order is associated with obesity. However, studies combining these exposures are needed. This study aimed at investigating obesity in children and young adults in regard to different combinations of family size and birth order.
Two cohorts selected from the general population were investigated: The Copenhagen School Health Records Register (CSHRR) and a Draft Board (DB) sample with measured heights and weights in childhood (age 13 years) and young adulthood (age 19 years), respectively. Information on birth order, number of siblings, and relevant covariates were available on 29 327 children, as well as on 323 obese young men and 575 randomly selected controls of young men representing approximately 58 000. The relation between number of siblings and birth order, respectively, and having a Body Mass Index (BMI) z-score above or equal to the 95th percentile in childhood or having a BMI of at least 31.00 kg/m2 in young adulthood was analysed using logistic regression analyses adjusted for relevant confounders.
Only children had significantly higher odds of obesity both in childhood and in young adulthood compared with children with siblings, odds ratio (OR) = 1.44 (95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.26–1.66) and OR = 1.76 (95% CI: 1.18–2.61), respectively. No association between first-born status and obesity was found. The OR of last-born children being obese was also significantly increased in childhood, e.g. OR = 1.93 (95% CI: 1.09−3.43) of obesity if last-born in a family of four children. This was not found in young adulthood. Additionally, higher spacing to previous sibling (average 1872 vs. 1303 days; p = 0.026 in four children families) was observed in obese last-born compared to non-obese last-born children.
Being an only or last-born child is associated with obesity. These associations may provide leads to targeted prevention of obesity in children.