Simple Family Routines Can Help Prevent Childhood Obesity
Getting back to some all but forgotten family basics can have a significant impact on the prevention of childhood obesity. Adopting simple behaviors such as sitting down to a family dinner on a regular basis can get children off to a healthy start in the battle against obesity. A recent study involving a nationally representative sample of four-year-old children found that the return of the family meal, mixed with less television time, and the added ingredient of sufficient sleep, are a recipe for keeping preschoolers slim and healthy.
Regarding the outcome of the analysis, lead study author Sarah Anderson, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health at Ohio State University in Columbus, summarized, “Four-year-olds who regularly ate dinner with the family, got enough sleep and watched less than two hours of TV a day were 40 percent less likely to be obese.” Anderson also pointed out, “One of the things that’s potentially useful about recommending these routines, if they’re suggested as part of obesity-prevention counseling, is that they may have other benefits, too. And, for pediatricians and other clinicians, we don’t have easy, effective treatments for obesity in children, so it’s very important to try to prevent obesity.”
For the study, Anderson’s team analyzed data collected as part of a major health study on 8,550 American four-year-olds born in 2001. Among the participants, 18 percent were considered to be obese due to having a body mass index greater than the 95th percentile in comparison to other children of the same age and gender. Body mass index (BMI) is a measurement of height and weight used to determine obesity.
The researchers asked one parent of each of the children in the analysis to answer questions regarding family behaviors and routines. Findings revealed that only 14.5 percent of the children regularly experienced all three of the behaviors in the study, which included sharing the evening meal as a family at least five nights weekly, sleeping more than 10.5 hours nightly, and spending less than two hours watching television, videos or DVDs during weekdays. Among these children, an obesity rate of only 14.3 percent was noted, whereas among children who received no exposure to any of the behaviors, the obesity rate was 24.5 percent. The full study report is slated to be published in the March issue of Pediatrics.
The findings were seen in children having additional risk factors for obesity such as race, gender, socioeconomic status, maternal obesity, and living in a single-parent home, as well in children who were not an increased risk of becoming obese. Anderson explained, “The routines were protective even among groups that typically have a high risk for obesity. This is important because it suggests that there’s a potential for these routines to be useful targets for obesity prevention in all children.”
Anderson noted that although the study indicates an association between family habits and a child’s risk of obesity, the issue of cause and effect remains unclear. She said, “We don’t know if it’s the routines per se, or if it’s the parenting associated with these routines or something else correlated with these routines, but we do know these routines are associated with a lower incidence of obesity.”
Although the combined effect of the routine family behaviors included in the analysis had the greatest impact on lowering obesity, Anderson said that each behavior was linked to a 17 percent reduction in the risk in obesity. Therefore, if a family cannot routinely establish all three of these behaviors, she suggests, “Each of these routines was related to a lower risk of obesity, so you can choose to try the one that you think you’ll have the most success with. If you’re already doing one, consider doing another.”
In addition to eating the evening meal as a family, preparing healthier meals can offer further positive results. For some great ideas on eating healthier, see the HealthNews diet pages.