Study: 3 Family Habits May Fight Childhood Obesity

February 8, 2010

By Sarah Klein

MONDAY, Feb. 8, 2010 ( — Worried about your child’s weight? You can do more than just nag them about eating too much junk food. Implementing three healthy family habits—eating dinner together, making sure they get enough sleep, and limiting TV—may help.

The combination of these three habits is associated with a lower risk of obesity in children, according to a new study.

The study, which included 8,550 4-year-olds from around the United States, found that children who ate dinner with their families more than five times a week, slept for at least 10.5 hours a night, and watched less two hours or less of TV a day were 40% less likely to be obese than children who did none of those things.

Roughly 1 in 7 children who practiced all three of the behaviors was obese, compared to 1 in 4 youngsters who practiced none of them, according to the study, which was published in Pediatrics.

Even maintaining just one of the routines—all of which, on their own, have been linked to a lower risk of childhood obesity in previous studies—lowered the odds that a child would be obese by about 25%, the study found.

“We found an independent effect of each, which suggests that doing more of them was better,” says lead study author Sarah Anderson, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University. “If you were doing one, adding another one—either one—was associated with a lower prevalence of obesity.”

Many families in the study were already implementing at least some of the behaviors. Nearly 40% of the families practiced two of the three, which lowered the odds that a child was obese nearly as much as all three, the researchers found. However, just 15% of families practiced all three of the behaviors, according to the study.

Households were more likely to practice all three if they were white, if they were two-parent families, if the mother wasn’t obese, if the mother had a bachelor’s degree, or if the household income was higher.

Significantly, however, the study found that the link between the behaviors and the lower risk of obesity held even after they controlled for a family’s economic status and other factors, which suggests that the behaviors are beneficial regardless of a family’s circumstances.

Next page: Parents should try to adopt these routines

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