Something as simple as sitting down to dinner together as a family can go a long way in helping a child fend off obesity.
That’s just one of the findings from new research that suggests that family behaviors can have a significant impact on the weight of preschool children. Other behaviors that may help youngsters stay slim include getting adequate sleep and limiting time in front of the television.
“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,” said the study’s lead author, Sarah Anderson, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health at Ohio State University in Columbus.
“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,” Anderson said.
Results of the study are to be published in the March issue of Pediatrics.
The study included a nationally representative sample of 8,550 4-year-olds. One parent of each child answered questions about the family’s routines.
From this group of children, 18 percent were considered obese, which means their body mass index (a measurement that includes weight and height) is greater than the 95th percentile when compared with others of their age and gender.
Just 14.5 percent of the children were exposed to all three of the study behaviors on a regular basis: Eating the evening meal as a family five or more nights a week, getting more than 10.5 hours of sleep per night, and watching less than two hours of TV, video or DVDs a day.
The researchers found that in children routinely exposed to all three behaviors, the obesity rate was 14.3 percent. In children who weren’t exposed to any of the behaviors, the rate was 24.5 percent.
Anderson said that each behavior was associated with a 17 percent reduction in the risk in obesity.
These findings held true even when the researchers controlled for factors that may affect a risk of obesity, including maternal obesity, race, gender, socioeconomic status and living in a single-parent household.
Anderson noted that this study could only find an association between these behaviors and a child’s risk of obesity. The study was not designed to assess cause and effect.
“We do know these routines are associated with a lower incidence of obesity,” she said.
By Serena Gordon • HealthDay