Childhood obesity is an epidemic in our country. The First Lady has made it her top priority through the Let’s Move campaign. I have personally worked with many families who are concerned about a child’s weight. It’s more than hard when you consider the state of our country’s food supply, how food is marketed to children, and the lifestyles adopted by busy families. Oftentimes the focus becomes 100% on what the child is eating and this can create long-term problems with self-esteem and image.
A recent study in the Journal Pediatrics suggests a different approach. The study showed that preschool-aged children can lower their risk of obesity if they regularly engage in one or more of these three specific household routines:
eating dinner as a family, getting adequate sleep, and limiting weekday TV viewing time.
The study showed that 4-year-old children living in homes practicing all three routines had an almost 40% lower prevalence of obesity than did children living in homes that practiced none of these routines. Each routine on its own was associated with lower obesity, and more routines translated to lower obesity prevalence.
Interestingly, the link between these weekly routines and lower obesity was seen in children with and without other risk factors for obesity. Of course, not every child who does not engage in these activities is going to become obese, but I think it’s a good marker to see where your family routine stands in comparison.
The children with the least prevalence of obesity had the following weekly routine:
- eating the evening meal as a family more than 5 times per week
- getting at least 10½ hours of sleep per night
- watching less than 2 hours per day of TV on weekdays
The emphasis on practices that take the focus off the child’s weight and more on practices that enhance overall health and self-esteem may produce greater long-term results. In my experience, a child with a healthy self-esteem is more likely to make food choices that will feed their hunger and their well-being.
What do you think?
Danielle Omar, MS, RD
The Food Confidence Expert