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You May Be Making Your Kids Obese!

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The factors contributing to your kids' obesity may be no further than your dining room table.

obese kids eating take-out by tv

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.

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12 comments so far | Post a comment now
Black Iris March 14, 2010, 5:24 AM

Great information!

I think a study like this also shows the importance of making life easy for parents. Parents who can come home/work from home/be at home have an easier time doing all of the things in this study.

Maybe we could reduce obesity by recognizing the value of “mother-work” and supporting parents more.

I wonder if the push under President Clinton to make low-income single moms go to work hurt kids and made them more likely to be obese?

Anonymous March 14, 2010, 2:47 PM

gotta love the little porkers

Chrissy March 14, 2010, 11:59 PM

Duh, that’s the just commonsense.

michelle March 15, 2010, 9:03 AM

Black Iris, I like your comments generally, but I think you are coming at this issue the wrong way. And the author of this piece is also well intentioned, but I don’t love the undertone of parent-shaming. Obesity is strongly associated with class (regardless of whether the kid has a working single mom or married SAHP). Those are the real factors behind the bad habits outlined in the article. So I don’t think the answer is to encourage poor/working class mothers to stay home, collect welfare and remain permanently in poverty. And I say this as a liberal who supports federal social programs. Rather, I think the answer is smarter policies that support all parents, whether they work or not. For working parents, this means things like decent funding for activity-based afterschool programs so kids aren’t warehoused in front of the TV. It means paying people a living wage, and/or looking at ways to reduce the ridiculous cost of living for working people (like $1000/month health insurance premiums) so they don’t have to work 2 or 3 jobs and shuffle their kids around starting at 5am. For all parents, it means mandating recess in school, and ending subsidies for growers of junk food ingredients (like corn), and shifting them to fresh fruit and vegetable growers. I could go on.

Anonymous March 15, 2010, 6:24 PM

love the little chunkers

True Mom March 16, 2010, 7:13 AM

I think routines are essential to an OVERALL healthy environment for children. However, why in the basic three were there no mention of… EXERCISE? Put down the game-boy/PS3/computer mouse (that means you to mom and dad) and get outside!

Lynn March 16, 2010, 7:14 AM

9 times out of 10 Fat parents = Fat children. When you eat in front of the TV, so do they. When you lay around and do little else, so will they. When you complain that you have no energy,don’t like the way you look,and blame everyone else…SO WILL THEY!

Stephanie James March 16, 2010, 7:19 AM

Dr. Shapiro, of Harvard Medical School…we are not impressed. You went to harvard to study E.N.T. Great! Most haven’t (myself included) yet we are bright educated parents who need ACTUAL data to help with Childhood obesity. Such as…Healthy food, No corn syrup. Cheaper fruits and Vegetables and healthier organic meats available to EVERYONE at a reasonable price.
Feed you children healthy balanced meals, go outside and take a walk and get some sleep…There, No Harvard Degree needed.

NS March 16, 2010, 1:07 PM

The piece I wrote is based on an article reporting on 8500 children. I read the article and shared the information with momlogic readers. Even the obvious needs data to support it, which has nothing to do with Harvard Medical School.

art mom March 17, 2010, 8:55 AM

Dr. Shapiro is simply reporting a study for those of us who do not have that information. One should take up those negative questions with the study investigators, not Dr. Shapiro who has taken time to give us that information as well as her personal view on what may or may not be feasible for many people. Why make personal and sometimes uninformed attacks on an individual who is trying advocate for better health. Obesity does have an impact on ENT problems for your information.

Dean Lisena January 28, 2011, 4:32 AM

This is by far intriguing posts you’ve added. i disagree on some points however the majority of the sections you added I can understand where you were coming from.

headphones February 12, 2011, 8:42 AM

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