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Health & Parenting

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Less TV, More Family Dinners Fight Childhood Obesity

Study: Lifestyle Changes Reduce Childhood Obesity Risk by Nearly 40%
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 8, 2010 -- Simple lifestyle habits at home, such as having more family meals, could reduce obesity in preschoolers, new research suggests.

A study to be published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics says preschoolers could reduce their risk of obesity by nearly 40% if they ate more evening meals as a family, limited their time watching TV, and got enough sleep.

Taking one or more of the three actions would likely lower obesity risk in that age group, says Sarah Anderson, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University.

Four-year-olds living in homes that followed all three of those lifestyle routines had an almost 40% lower prevalence of obesity than children in homes that didn’t practice any, the researchers report. The findings took into account risk factors such as maternal obesity and household income.

Lifestyle Changes Lower Obesity Risk

Anderson and colleague Robert Whitaker, MD, professor of public health and pediatrics at Temple University, analyzed data on 8,550 4-year-old U.S. children in 2005. Eighteen percent of the children were determined to be obese.

They found:

  • Obesity prevalence was only 14.3% in households practicing all three defined healthful routines.
  • Obesity prevalence was 24.5% for children in households not practicing any of the three routines.

The odds of obesity in children who were exposed to all three household routines was 37% less than in children who were exposed to none.

“The routines were protective even among groups that typically have a high risk for obesity,” Anderson says in a news release. “This is important because it suggests that there’s a potential for these routines to be useful targets for obesity prevention in all children.”

The information on the children came from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics that’s aimed at finding information about health and healthy learning environments in children.

Lifestyle Changes: Which Is Best?

The researchers defined the three healthy routines as eating the evening meal as a family more than five times per week, getting at least 10.5 hours of sleep nightly, and watching less than two hours of TV on weekdays.

The researchers say adopting just one of the practices could lower a child’s risk of becoming obese. Each routine was linked with 23%-25% lower odds of obesity.

“I imagine people are going to want to know which of the routines is most important,” Anderson says. “Is it limited TV, is it dinner, is it adequate sleep?”

But she says the research doesn’t answer that question.

“Each one appears to be associated with a lower risk of obesity, and having more of these routines appears to lower the risk further,” she says in the release.

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