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Family dinner reduces childhood obesity

It can be hard to make healthful choices - but a new study suggests 3 easy strategies can reduce the risk of childhood obesity by 40%. And it starts with the family sitting down together for dinner.

Feb. 8, 2010 - As the troubling increase in childhood obesity continues - with obesity rates doubling in a generation - it is sometimes hard to identify exactly which behaviors cause - or better yet, can prevent - excessive weight gain in children.

A new study from The Ohio State University College of Public Health has identified three very simple changes in family behavior that can reduce the risks of excessive weight gain in children by up to 40%.

The three behaviors that can reduce the risk of childhood obesity are:

1. Sit down to dinner as a family.

2. Limit TV time to 2 hours a day.

3. Get 10.5 hours of sleep a night.

Credit:, Ohio State University Press Release.

Families in which these 3 behaviors were found were at much lower risk for obesity, but also saw better outcomes in a wide range of categories, including language acquisition, emotional development and cognitive development.

The study (Ref. 1), a cross-sectional design that included 8,000 preschoolers, is consistent with a growing body of studies in humans and animals that show adequate sleep is crucial to normal, healthy growth and development. Over the last decade sleep has been shown to be important for normal brain plasticity (ability to learn and change) during development (ref. 2), helps consolidate memories (ref. 3), is associated with reduced risk of diabetes (ref. 4), and is an excellent predictor of school performance (ref. 5).

“Obesity is a major public health problem in pre-school aged children,” Dr. Anderson says. “We know that obese children are more likely to become obese adults and we also know that obesity is associated with a higher likelihood of many adult diseases, particularly diabetes.”

Childhood Obesity References and Resources

Ref. 1. Household Routines and Obesity in US Preschool-Aged Children, Pediatrics, Volume 125, Number 3, March 2010

Ref. 2. Frank et al. Sleep enhances plasticity in the developing visual cortex. Neuron. 2001 30:275-287.

Ref. 3. Kopasz et al. Sleep and memory in healthy children and adolescents - A critical reviewSleep Med Rev. 2010 Jan 19.

Ref. 4. Spiegel et al. Effects of poor and short sleep on glucose metabolism and obesity risk. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2009 5:253-261.

Ref. 5. Meijer AM. Chronic sleep reduction, functioning at school and school achievement in preadolescents. J Sleep Res. 2008 17:395-405.

CDC: Childhood overweight and obesity.

The Obesity Society: Childhood overweight. Includes trend data by age group, common negative outcomes and measures.

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