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Pre-School Children Should
Live As They Did 25 Years Ago

Young children should live as they did a generation ago to help prevent obesity, a new study shows.

Four-year-olds who ate dinner with their siblings and parents, got a lot of sleep and had their TV viewing rationed were found to have a reduced risk of becoming seriously overweight.

Children who followed these routines – more in line with children 25 years ago - were almost 40 per cent less likely to be obese than those from less disciplined households.

The study came as figures showed how child obesity in England rose from one in 10 to one in seven between 1995 and 2008.

Dr Sarah Anderson, from Ohio State University in the US, said: "The routines were protective even among groups that typically have a high risk for obesity.

“This is important because it suggests that there's a potential for these routines to be useful targets for obesity prevention in all children."

Each routine on its own was associated with lower obesity, but their effect was greater when combined.

Scientists analysed data collected as part of a major health study on 8,550 US children born in 2001.

The researchers focused on three particular family routines: eating an evening meal as a family more than five times a week, getting at least 10-and-a-half hours sleep a night, and watching less than two hours of TV per day on weekdays.

Children were categorised as "obese" if their body mass index (BMI), based on height and weight measurements, was in the top five per cent of figures cited in recognised growth charts.

In total, 18 per cent of the children studied were considered to be obese under this definition.

Among four-year-old children whose families practised all three routines, the prevalence of obesity was 14.3 per cent.

In contrast, almost one in four of children living in households with none of the routines were obese.

The study, published in the journal Paediatrics, suggested adopting just one of the routines could lower a child's risk of becoming obese.

"I imagine people are going to want to know which of the routines is most important: is it limited TV, is it dinner, is it adequate sleep?" said Dr Anderson.

"What this suggests is that you can't point to any one of these routines. Each one appears to be associated with a lower risk of obesity, and having more of these routines appears to lower the risk further."

Previous research had suggested that children are more likely to be obese if their mothers were severely overweight, their household income was below the poverty level, their mothers left school early, and they were growing up in a single-parent home.

Even in children for whom all these factors applied, practising the three family routines appeared to lower the likelihood of obesity.

Many of the families studied already practised at least two of the routines, the researchers found.

More than 56 per cent of families had dinner together at least six evenings per week, and in 57.5 per cent of cases pre-schoolers slept at least 10.5 hours per night.

TV time was limited to two hours or less among 40.4 per cent of families.

However, some children were obese despite their families practising all three routines.

February 9, 2010

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