There just might be a simple answer to the childhood obesity problem – routine. As a mom of twin almost seven-year-old boys, the epic struggle between family and job is constantly ongoing. I have always tried to keep my children to a daily routine, not necessarily on the dot, but a structured day schedule that starts with breakfast and ends with a bedtime story. But as they grow older, their schedules become more complex, from soccer practice to music lessons, from playdates to extra English classes (we live in German-speaking Switzerland). Sometimes under such circumstances, the idea of keeping a routine seems so far-fetched. Yet we try. And it works more or less.
Researchers report that the secret to preventing childhood obesity lies in your household routine. And this routine should include:
- Regular family dinners
- Enough sleep
- Limited TV time
The researchers looked at the “lifestyle” of 8,550 4-year-olds in the US who were part of Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort. The researchers report:
- More than 50% of children have family dinner at least six nights a week.
- 57.5% of children slept a minimum of 10.5 hours on weeknights
- 40.4% watched no more than two hours of TV and videos each weekday.
- 12% o f children do not have any of these routines at home
Data analysis showed that the described routines are each associated with lower obesity in the children studied. The more routines are implemented the less is the incidence of obesity.
- Households which practice all three routines have a prevalence of 14.3% obesity.
- Households which practice 2 routines have an obesity rate of 15.8%.
- Households with one routine have obesity rate of 20.9%
Those who follow no routine at all have a prevalence of 25% obesity.
According to study author Dr. Sarah Anderson, PhD, study assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University’s College of Public Health.
“The implication is that these three household routines may be promising behavior targets for obesity prevention. We know it’s going to be harder for some families than others [to implement these], but all families can think about what it would take to have these routines.
Pediatricians may want to bring these topics up to the parents of their patients. And parents should think about what it would take to [implement] these routines for their child.”
The researchers also reported that practice of these routines seems to be dependent on ethnicity, household income and maternal obesity.
Recently, there have been reports of increasing incidence of binge eating among children and how it is linked to irregular meal times.
Back to my family and our routine, it is unfortunate having a family dinner together on weeknights is a problem, what with their Dad’s demanding job. But the kids do get to eat their supper at regular times (6:00 to 6:30 pm) with my supervision. We do get some brownie points for the sleep routine. On weeknights, my kids are in bed by 8 pm and get up at 6:45 am. But best of all, because of their busy schedule, and because it has always been our policy to minimize screen time, a 30-minute TV per day (if at all) is a max.
I am happy to report that despite missing on the first routine (you can’t have everything), our boys are healthy. They have an extra healthy appetite but without the extra kilos that could potentially go with it. And they still have miss a day in school this school year.