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Family Routines Can Reduce Childhood Obesity

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I just read an article published in the journal Pediatrics which once again validated the importance of family routines.  In this study researchers from Ohio State University looked at household routines as they related to childhood obesity, an ever escalating problem.

The research, conducted in 2005, but published this year, analyzed over 8,500 four year old children. 18% of the children were identified as obese.  Families were then asked if they regularly ate evening meals together, did their children have a bedtime and receive adequate sleep, and was television time limited within the home?

When looked at more closely a little more than half of the children reported having family dinners 6 or 7 evenings a week.  There were 57% of the children who were reported to have 10.5 hours of sleep per weeknight.  Only about 40% of the studied children were reported to watch less than 2 hours of television or movie viewing per weekday.

When looked at in terms of those children who were exposed to all 3 routines, the prevalence of obesity was 14%, while those children not exposed to any of the 3 routines had a prevalence rate for obesity of 24.5%.  The research also found that the number of household routines was a predicator of obesity and that by adding a routine, there was a 17% reduction in odds for obesity as a new routine was added.

These household routines seem to be fairly easy to initiate in that they may be accomplished without any cost etc.  Establishing good routines for family meals has repeatedly been shown to improve a child’s academic success, attention, risk of using alcohol and drugs and overall well being. If it could also reduce the incidence of obesity what a win!!  Just one more reason to plan for a family to eat dinner together.

This study did not even discuss healthy food choices, which might make the statistics even more compelling, and what about adding eating breakfast together?

Bedtime routines are important for all children and the lack of sleep has been documented to cause numerous issues.  We as parents all know that our children are “cranky” when they are sleepy, and as they get older lack of sleep impacts a child’s school performance, alertness and focus and may even be a factor in a teens driving safety.  I think all children need to have a “bedtime”, and even teens need to know when to go to bed!

Lastly, the AAP has recommended that children under 2 years of age not watch TV, and for those older than 2 years there is  no more than 2 hours of television/DVD/movie/computer time per day.  I would also add that children should not watch TV prior to their school day, and that includes watching movies in the car while en route to school!  I just don’t get that.

So, 3 simple household routines may make a huge difference in a child’s over all well being, including reducing their risk of obesity.  Start with one of these routines and as they become “routine” add another.  See what you think!

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue right now!

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One Response to “Family Routines Can Reduce Childhood Obesity”

  1. Beth says:

    Although I agree with the idea of routines at mealtime it is just not possible most nights of the week. If I try to focus on a family dinner then everything else in our day becomes about that meal and it stresses me out completely. There are just to many other things we need (and want) to do and simply not enough hours in the day. I believe that making parents feel guilty about this is simply unnecessary and unfair. Second, as for the TV. I myself grew up watching TV, and I am an very accomplished person (academically and professionally). As for my children they also watch much more TV than “recommended” and have exceeded every developmental milestone. This may be anecdotal evidence but it’s good enough for me.

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