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Slash Your Child's Risk for Obesity by 40%--Without Diet or Exercise

By , SparkPeople Blogger
We put a lot of the blame for childhood obesity on fast food, school lunches, and sedentary lifestyles, and certainly all of these factors (along with many others) are at play. But can we really do much about these factors, especially in the short-term? Fast food is here to stay. While these restaurants offer more healthy options than ever before, people are still ordering the old standbys. Parents are busy—too busy to cook at home or aren't knowledgeable about how to prepare homemade meals at all. And when we're too busy to cook dinner, the same goes for lunch. School lunches are a way of life for busy and low-income households that rely on them. And kids aren't as active—we know that. But we don't live in the times we used to, when kids could go outside all day long without supervision—something we'd never allow this day and age. So are we powerless to change the fate of our children?

Research published in Pediatrics shows that reducing your child's risk of obesity is simpler we may think. In fact, three easy household strategies can decrease a child's obesity risk by 40%--and not one of them has anything to do with fast food, school lunches, exercise or overhauling your family's lifestyle.

Researchers from Ohio State University and Temple University looked at three household routines to find out which ones correlated with obesity in young children (4-year-olds in this case). Of the more than 8,500 children in the study, nearly 20% of were obese already. (That part really jumped out at me. Something needs to change if one out of five preschoolers is obese.)

Of the three simple household routines, the more a child followed, the lower his or her chances of becoming obese were. So even if you just implemented just one or two, you could reduce your child's risk of obesity more than if you did not take any of these actions. The simple steps were:
  1. Regularly eating the evening meal as a family (at least 5 nights per week)
  2. Getting adequate nighttime sleep on weekdays (at least10.5 hours per night)
  3. Limiting screen (television, video) time on weekdays (less than 2 hours per day)
That's it. No talk of vegetables, whole grains, sports leagues, soda consumption, chocolate milk, phys ed classes or packing lunches. Even smaller changes—things that parents can do TODAY without overhauling their lives—really do work.

It's easy to see why. Eating dinner as a family means you're likely to consume more nutritious foods and less fat and calories, and family meals have many more benefits than nutrition. Getting enough sleep can regulate one's appetite and give you more energy, perhaps making kids less likely to overeat and more likely to be active during the day. And screen time has been shown to affect a child's weight, not only because time spent watching TV is sedentary, but also because commercials DO influence how children eat, even though parents are the food buyers and providers.

I'm sure that many parents feel overwhelmed about changing their family's habits, but this study shows that small steps can make a very big difference. Perhaps parents can start with these habits to gain some control and empowerment, and then feel ready to take on more changes like cooking more wholesome meals, packing lunches, and getting active as a family. As SparkPeople recommends for adults losing weight and getting healthier, starting small (eating ONE vegetable per day, drinking ONE cup of water, walking for TEN minutes) helps people achieve success early on can act as a springboard for you to take your program to the next level. We just need to approach our children with the same mentality and we can wipe out childhood obesity sooner than we ever imagined.

Do you think these three steps can really make a difference in the fight against childhood obesity? Do you implement these (or other) actions in your own household?