Background: Lifestyle interventions to prevent paediatric obesity often target family and peer settings; their success is likely to depend on the influence that peers and families exert on children's lifestyle behaviors at different developmental stages.
Objective: First, to determine whether children's lifestyle behavior more closely resembles their peers' or siblings' behaviors. Secondly, to investigate longitudinally whether children's behavioral change is predicted by that of their peers or their siblings as they grow older.
Methods: The European prospective IDEFICS/I.Family cohort (baseline survey: 2007/2008, first follow-up: 2009/2010, and second follow-up: 2013/2014) aims at investigating risk factors for overweight and related behaviors during childhood and adolescence. The present investigation includes 2694 observations of children and their siblings aged 2 to 18 years. Peers were defined as same-sex, same-age children in the same community and identified from the full cohort. The longitudinal analysis (mean follow-up time: 3.7 years) includes 525 sibling pairs. Children's lifestyle behaviors including fast food consumption (frequency/week), screen time (hours/week) and sports club participation (hours/week) were assessed by questionnaire. Data were analyzed using multilevel linear models.
Results: Children's lifestyle behavior was associated with the respective behavior of their peers and sibling for all 3 behaviors. For fast food consumption, the peer resemblance was more than 6-fold higher than the sibling resemblance and the peer resemblance surpassed the sibling resemblance by the age of 9–10 years. The similarities with peers for fast food consumption and screen time steadily increased, while the similarities with siblings steadily decreased with increasing age of the children (Pinteraction < 0.001). In contrast, the relative importance of peers and siblings on sports club duration did not vary by the age of the children. Longitudinal results showed that children's changes in fast food consumption were more strongly associated with those in their peer group than their sibling, in particular if the age gap between siblings was large.
Conclusion: In conclusion, our results support the implementation of multi-setting interventions for improving lifestyle behaviors in children. Our findings might also guide future intervention studies in the choice of timing and setting in which interventions are likely to be most effective. From the ages of 9–10 years onwards, family- or home-based interventions targeting children's fast food intake and screen time behavior may become less effective than school- or community-based interventions aimed at peer groups.
- Sibling pairs
- Peer influences
- Fast food
- Screen time
- Sports club
- Physical activity