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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?

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As a child, we ate meals as a family every night, went to bed early, and I watched about 2 hours of TV per WEEK. I was a skinny kid, as were most kids. Now, with my own kids, we eat supper together every night & have a regular sleep schedule, but where I mis-step is in the area of TV & video games. I know we let our 5-year-old spend too much time in front of a screen. His weight is low because he'd rather play video games than eat lunch, so we created a new rule that he has to eat lunch before he can play video games. He eats much better, since enforcing the new rule.

Last Sunday, we had a "Low Tech Day", where we banished all TV, video games and computers. It was awesome! Feel free to read my blogs about it. Report
I want to challenge the author's supposition that parents are often too busy to prepare home cooked meals. I work full-time, my husband is a full-time student, and he also works on the weekend. We have two small children and I'm very active in a local mom's support group. AND I get dinner on the table 6 out of 7 days of the week minimum. Perhaps education is what's to plan dinners for the week. How to plan in leftovers! What does a healthy meal look like and how do you pull it together.

"Too busy" is not a great excuse. As parents, we're the best champions for our children. Report
We really need to start eating dinner as a family. Our daughter is so picky, we have to make something seperate for her to eat. Report
Youngins in the state of Texas who play baseball in particular like Little League will have trouble getting that much sleep; the league games start on week days before school's out in the Spring & don't end 'til 10 pm! As a teacher, this was horrible for the kids at school the next day!!! There's a Fall League that does the same thing! Report
My family, we already do all these. Since I really started to follow sparkpeople, we eat dinner together with atleast 2 veggies at dinner. My kids are at a healthy weight and are very active. I hope they stay this way all their lives. I'm also hoping my commitment to fitness is a good example to them. Report
Interesting! I doubt these three factors are actually causal, I'd guess they were things that were happening in families with children who were not overweight.

We live in a tiny little rural community. I have seven children, and our family of nine survives (barely, wink) on my husband's single income while stay home with the kids. I've never had enough money to sign them up for soccer or basketball or baseball. We do have an acre of grass and trees to climb and a trampoline, and during the nice weather my kids are outside all day long—it's still safe here, especially when they're all out there together.

But we do all three things. They only get turns on the computer of about 30 minutes a day. We eat dinner every single day together—and, because I homeschool, lunch and breakfast as well. And we do our very best to get them a full night of sleep every night, and succeed most of the time.

None of them are the tiniest bit overweight. So maybe, just maybe, there's merit in this! Report
We have done exactly what this article states: eating the evening meal and breakfast together as a family. We had great conversations at the table. We had bedtimes for the kids and they were only allowed to watch TV one hour a day on weekdays and a movie on weekends. They had/have no weight problem. They were encouraged to take up a sport of their liking as well. Report
I suspect that the 3 highlighted behaviours would work. Especially in this day of kids not getting outside and 'playing' 'til dark.

When growing up, Sunday dinner was the big night to all sit together & eat a great meal. The rest of the week...well, once I discovered school activities, I left for school at about 6 am (drinking my home made egg nog as I walked to school) and got home about 9 pm (to get dinner out of the oven). Seldom saw a family meal during the week.

My parents and sister were also very involved in various activities of their we were an active family. As long as I stayed active, I did not have a significant weight was when I slowed down! Report
I think these three things will help children, but it is hard to control what is going on when they are out of the house - at school, with friends, with other family members who do not follow this structure. It is too bad that things have changed so much that our children can not be outside playing all day like I was able to when I was young! Report
This is really interesting and I can see how these could really impact other areas of life...although I do still think that the talk of veggies and exercise are important.

For instance growing up (especially pre-high school) my family followed all of the rules mentioned in this study and yet I've been overweight + since about kindergarten....I did play sports but for me I know it had more to do with genetics, learned eating habits the fact that my mom doesn't like vegetables so we never ate them. Report
The study doesn't explain then why I had a weight problem growing up (met all criteria) OR why there are many skinny kids playing video games all day long. Again, this problem is complex, and one simple study is not going to be the "answer." Report
So true. These are the reasons that my generation (I'm 47) did not have a weight problem. Report
This system worked for my three son when they were growing up. But kids today have to many screen games. Report
We do this already! We always eat together (a bit easier with preschoolers than with teenagers I think!), my kids get about 11 hrs of sleep and they just don't watch TV when we get home. It is easier than it sounds! Report
I agree with all of these, but havent been following them, I will start though. I also think that doing family activites once or twice a week is BIG time benefical as well. We found a great little pond about 10 minutes from our house. We grabbed thr dog, the skates, the kids and the shovels. Awesome fun, plus the kids DID go to bed earlier because they were so tired from skating!! Report
Great article. I have a friend that has a son who suffers from gas/indigestion and yes, he is 50lbs overweight...obese. Their doctors said it was from overeating...I suggested to her the wheat/gluten intolerance diet...guess what? He's losing weight and suffers from less gas. She is now reading ingredients, cooking from scratch with less condiments, and is now working on lessening soy products.
I read more and more people are wheat intolerance, which is different from allergy. Report
I've always put my kids to be 'early' compared to most... They're in bed at 7:30, lights out at 7:45, asleep by 8. They don't get up until 7 (sometimes later) They are always full of energy, and ready to go. They start out with Ovaltine.. (in milk) and don't always want breakfast for a little while but.. they do eat good meals, 3 times a day, and 2 snacks. They are both nice and lean.. and fit! (well.. I'd like them fitter.. but they can outrun most of the other kids around!) It's tough on us parents.. but good for them.
We have recently changed my daughters bed time so now whe is getting that amount of sleep on weekdays. It makes life a whole lot easier not just food either. She was born with a metabolism to die for she got it from her daddy. I agree that TV does influence the eating habits because she has been grounded from the TV and she is eating better. She also eats veggies and fruits.
Andi Report
This article was good tool to help me in my goals for my family. It touched on more than just obesity but having well rounded and enjoyable lifestyle. It's about livinig and having it more abundantly. Report
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