(fashion) We all know the sibling stereotypes: the eldest has a head start in life, the middle child feels left out and the youngest is rebellious and impulsive.
But big brothers and sisters don’t always come out on top, research has revealed – most notably when it comes to our health.
According to a wealth of scientific studies, the ‘babies’ of the family are more likely to be slimmer, healthier and live longer than their elder brothers or sisters.
Senior siblings face an uphill struggle, being prone to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.
Here, we reveal the intriguing science that shows why your place in the family could be the secret to optimum health.
According to a wealth of scientific studies, the ‘babies’ of the family are more likely to be slimmer, healthier and live longer than their elder brothers or sisters (stock image)
SLIM AND HEALTHY? THANK YOUR OLDER SISTER
Obesity will be responsible for 400,000 deaths in Britain over the next decade. Statistics show that being obese increases by 70 per cent the risk of heart failure – one of the leading causes of death in the UK.
Obesity, which affects more than a quarter of adults, has now overtaken smoking as the leading cause of four types of cancer.
Although overeating and a lack of exercise are obvious causes, birth order could play a role, too. A 2015 study in New Zealand tracked 13,400 pairs of sisters and found those born first were almost a third more likely to be overweight and 40 per cent more likely to be obese than their younger siblings.
On average, older sisters were 1 lb 4oz bigger. The same pattern has been found in men and the reason, scientists admit, is a mystery.
But Professor Sandra Black, a public health researcher at Columbia University, New York, believes the difference may be because in the first pregnancy, a mother’s blood vessels are narrower, reducing the supply of nutrients to a baby in the womb, making them store more fat.
In later pregnancies, blood vessels are more flexible so are inclined to stretch – increasing the flow of blood and nutrients to the baby. ‘Lower nutrient flow to first-borns in the womb may affect their body’s regulation of fat, causing them to store more fats in adulthood,’ says Prof Black.
Professor Sandra Black, a public health researcher at Columbia University, New York, believes the difference may be because in the first pregnancy, a mother’s blood vessels are narrower, reducing the supply of nutrients to a baby in the womb, making them store more fat (stock image)
YOUNG SIBLINGS LESS LIKELY TO GET DIABETES
Type 2 diabetes, a condition where the body becomes unable to regulate blood sugar, is a modern epidemic, affecting more than three million Britons.
First-borns are more prone to diabetes, according to a study in New Zealand which found that older children’s bodies are less responsive to insulin, the hormone that helps muscle cells burn up sugar in the blood, keeping it stable.
Excess blood sugar is one of the hallmarks of type 2 diabetes and, left untreated, can increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke, blindness and amputations later in life.
Scientists think the poorer health of first-borns may be because they get a smaller amount of nutrients.
Professor Scott Montgomery, at University College London, says: ‘There are changes in the mother when she’s had previous pregnancies which could have implications for the development of the child.’
COMPETING SENDS BLOOD PRESSURE UP
There may be only five years’ difference between Fiona Scott and her sister Ali Rellos but the gulf in health terms is enormous.
Fiona, 53, from Swindon, has suffered with high blood pressure since her early 20s. She also takes antidepressants to cope with the psychological effects of the menopause and is prone to colds and sniffles. Yet her younger sibling has rarely, if ever, suffered problems with her health.
‘I was diagnosed with high blood pressure at 24,’ says public-relations executive Fiona, who is married with three children.
‘I’ve been on pills ever since and will be for the rest of my life.