The factors contributing to your kids' obesity may be no further than your dining room table.
Dr. Nina Shapiro: Many theories have been raised in an attempt to explain why obesity is starting at younger and younger ages -- from fast food to sedentary lifestyles to genetics. Childhood obesity has become a national problem, so much so that the President and First Lady have taken it to task, both at home and for the whole country. Even the president had an evaluation for "obesity" during his recent physical examination. This is more commonly known as "BMI," or "body mass index."
A study in this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics looked at the association between the prevalence of obesity (defined as a BMI in the greater than 95th percentile) in preschool-age children and exposure to three specific household routines. They studied more than 8500 four-year-olds in the United States, measuring association of obesity (Body mass index, or BMI in the greater than 95th percentile) with three routines: eating dinner as a family at least five nights per week, getting adequate sleep (greater than 10.5 hours) on weeknights, and limiting all screen-viewing (television, dvds, computers) to less than two hours on weeknights.
Overall, 18 percent were obese. Of the children who were exposed to all three routines, 14 percent were obese. Of those who were exposed to none of the routines, 25 percent were obese. This translates to an obesity rate that is 40 percent lower in children exposed to household routines -- including regularly eating dinner as a family, obtaining adequate nighttime sleep, and limiting screen-viewing time to less than two hours on weeknights. While this is only one study looking at three very specific elements of lifestyle, it included a large group of children from all over the United States.
On an individual level, we all have reasons for what works in our own homes. And, on a day-to-day basis, we do what we can to keep our kids healthy, and keep reasonable balance for ourselves and our kids. For two working parents, or a single working parent, it may not be reasonable to have kids wait until late in the evening for the benefit of a family dinner, only to compromise their "down" time and even sleep time. We all do what we can. But a large study such as this gives us some good information about what may be contributing to the national obesity epidemic, and what lifestyle elements may temper it.
|Dr. Nina Shapiro is a graduate of Harvard Medical School, and she completed her residency in ear, nose, and throat surgery at Harvard. She is an Associate Professor and Director of Pediatric Ear, Nose, and Throat at the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA. She has treated tens of thousands of children with ear problems, sleep problems, and breathing problems. She lives with her husband and two young children in Los Angeles.|