Parental unemployment during the Great Recession and childhood adiposity

Type Article

Journal Article


J. Briody

Year of publication



Soc Sci Med







The incidence of adiposity in the early years of life has outgrown the prevalence in older children and adolescents globally; however, the factors influencing weight gain are predominantly studied in adults. This study examines the relationship between changing economic conditions during the Irish recession and child weight in a nationally representative sample of 10,011 Irish children studied at 9 months, 3 years and 5 years old. This study is the first to use longitudinal anthropometric measurements to estimate the impact of direct parental unemployment on children's weight. Fixed effect logistic regression is used to examine the effects of parental unemployment on weight using the Growing up in Ireland infant cohort from 2008 to 2013. Weight and length/height measured by trained interviewers and child growth charts are used to quantify children's weight status according to BMI-for-age and weight-for-age measures. For BMI-for-age, the probability of a child being classified as overweight/obese is 8 percentage points higher if either parent experiences unemployment. A sensitivity analysis of weight-for-age indicates that the probability is of similar magnitude across several alternative growth charts and definitions of adiposity (the WHO standard, British Growth Reference, and Centers for Disease Control). The analysis is repeated, cross-sectionally, for physical activity and diet to clarify mechanisms of effect. The probability of a child consuming healthy food and physical activity with an implied cost is lower if either parent becomes unemployed. A focus on overweight/obesity in the early years is of crucial importance as if current trends are not addressed, a generation of children may grow up with a higher level of chronic disease.