Your Health

Fighting Childhood Obesity Should Be Part Of Family Routine

Want to do something really good for your kids waistlines? Set the table, turn off the TV and send 'em to bed early.

Child watching television screen. i i

Less TV leads to fewer pounds. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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Child watching television screen.

Less TV leads to fewer pounds.

iStockphoto.com

Kids who make a routine of eating family dinners, cutting down TV and gaming time, and getting a good night's sleep are 40 percent less likely to be obese than those who practice none of these habits, a new study finds.

The results, published in the March issue of Pediatrics, looked at a sample of more than 8,000 4-year-olds to gauge the effect of these three household habits on obesity. Regularly eating dinner as a family was defined to at least 5 meals a week, getting adequate nightly sleep meant at least 10.5 hours per night, and limited TV, computer, and gaming time on weekdays meant less than 2 hours per day.

"What was interesting was that... each [routine] was beneficial on its own as well as in combination with the others," Dr. Sarah Anderson, assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State and co-author of the study told Shots. The study concluded that fostering such habits may be a promising tool for obesity-prevention efforts in early childhood.

While TV watching, sleep, and eating family meals have each previously been linked to a reduced chance of obesity, this is the first study to look at the cumulative effects of all three household routines.

Even after the researchers adjusted for other factors, such as race and ethnicity, maternal obesity, and household income, the results remained pretty consistent. For Anderson, this means that "these routines may have the opportunity for universal impact, not just in one group."

But Anderson says that fostering such habits may not be possible in every household. "We know that it's going to be more difficult in some families than in others to have these routines, and what we really need is more research to see what would help families establish and maintain these routines given their different circumstances," she says.

Anderson adds that socio-economic and racial factors had an impact on the likelihood of practicing the habits at home. For instance, children lower-income homes were less likely to follow any, and especially all, of the three routines than those from well-off households. But, in whatever circumstances they were practiced, the results were the same: lower chances of obesity, she says.

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