Childhood Obesity

The rising incidents of childhood obesity is well documented. A recent Statistics Canada study found that 17 percent of Canadian children are overweight while 9 percent are obese and figures in the United States and the United Kingdom are even higher. It is predicted that obesity in children is the next major health crisis facing a generation.

While there are many contributing factors to the rise in obesity, including economic factors and genetics, a recent American study to be published in the March issue of Pediatrics suggests that three simple lifestyle changes can lower the rate of obesity in children by up to 40 percent.
Healthy Family Meals

Essential to preventing obesity or losing weight are good healthy meals. But according to the study, it is not only what you eat, but where and with whom. They recommend eating together as a family at least five times a week. While this may be a difficult change for families with working parents, the research suggests that it can help children avoid obesity or lose weight.

Regular family dinners allows parents to monitor what their children eat, help reduce isolation, increase communication skills and build self-esteem, all issues that may impact on a child’s relationship with food. Promoting regular family meals is a first good step to breaking bad eating habits.

Satellite TV and Internet
With satellite TV and Internet access providing the mainstay of entertainment options for children, the study found that by reducing the number of hours in front of the screen to less than two hours a day also contributed to lowering rates of childhood obesity. Less TV not only encourages more physical activity, a significant factor in obesity, but also promtes to the social, emotional, and cognitive health of children, which are linked to childhood health.

This can be particularly challenging for teenagers who spend a lot of time on Facebook or MSN and have to deal with peer pressure and convention. Yet reducing the number of hours on the computer will promote better interaction with friends and family which the study suggests, may contribute to a reduction in obesity.
Good Sleep

In addition to family meals, less TV or computer time, the third step in lowering obesity rates is a good night’s sleep. According to the study, children who get 10.5 hours of sleep a night have less incidence of obesity than those who do not. Not eating the right foods and watching too much TV can also contribute to a poor sleep.

The research does not highlight which one of these changes is better, only that if all three are practiced, the incidence of obesity is reduced by up to 40 percent. Whether it is possible to make only one change or all three, each can contribute to healthier children and the prevention of future illnesses.

Marilyn Michaud
Source: The Toronto Star



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