TUESDAY, Sept. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Small changes in household
routines, such as limiting TV time and increasing sleep time, can
help minimize excess weight gain in young children at high risk of
obesity, according to new research.
"Improving household routines led to a reduction of the risk of childhood obesity," said study researcher Dr. Elsie Taveras, chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston.
"We were able to improve sleep time (and) reduce time spent watching television, and we were able to show that in the intervention group, children had a lower rate of weight gain," Taveras said.
About 17 percent of American children and teens are obese,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And lower-income kids are at particular risk.
"Already by age 2, we see higher rates of obesity among low-income, racial and ethnic minority families," Taveras said.
Both lack of sleep and too much "screen time" are linked to
childhood obesity. So Taveras wanted to see if simple changes in
household routines could make a difference.
Her team recruited 121 families with 2- to 5-year-old children
and assigned half to make these small changes with the help of
"health coaches," who made a few home visits and phone calls. The
other families got information on child development, such as
playing with a child to prepare him or her for school.
Close to half of the children were already overweight for their
age and sex, the study authors noted.
After six months, children in the intervention group were
sleeping about three-quarters of an hour more at night and watching
TV for one hour less on weekends, according to the study published
online Sept. 9 in
What's more, they had a slower rate of weight gain: After six
months, their body mass index (BMI) -- a measure of weight in
relation to height -- had dipped. Weight loss was not the goal, the
researchers stressed -- just healthier weight gain.
"We would not expect them to lose weight," Taveras said. "They are growing in height and weight. We aimed to slow down the rate of their gaining."
The changes that families made were simple, Taveras said. To
encourage more sleep, parents could give their child a warm bath or
read a book before bed, acclimating the children to the routine and
a consistent bedtime. (Experts say 2- to 5-year-olds need 11 or
more hours of sleep to be well-rested.)
Parents said they often used TV as a way to occupy their
children while they did household chores. So the researchers
supplied the families with simple arts-and-crafts sets and
suggested they substitute that for TV.
The researchers also mapped out each family's neighborhood, to
help them find nearby playgrounds and parks, as an alternative to
Taveras said pediatricians and other health care providers might
consider suggesting the program -- minus the coaches -- to their
The study is an important one, said Dr. Thomas Robinson, a
professor of pediatrics and medicine at Stanford University and
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.
"It demonstrates that it may be possible to influence some important health-related behaviors -- sleep and TV watching time -- along with body mass index, with a counseling program for the parents of preschoolers," he said.
"These behaviors and BMI have not been easy to change in a world where junk food and screen time are so heavily marketed, and families are dealing with tremendous financial and social challenges," Robinson said. "I think it is exciting to see studies like this one showing positive results."
Much more research on "possible solutions" is still needed,
Robinson said. "But studies like this one demonstrate that the
science is progressing and can help us design programs to help slow
and hopefully reverse the obesity epidemic."
The families in the study were mostly minority: Just over half
of the children were Hispanic, one-third were black, and about 15
percent were classified as "other." The intervention worked equally
well across those groups, Taveras said, but it is not clear how
well it would work for more-advantaged families.
Another expert who reviewed the findings noted that the study
"I think the study findings are encouraging," said Simone French, professor of epidemiology and community health director of the University of Minnesota Obesity Prevention Center. "Researchers are starting to realize that the home environment is an important setting to try to intervene with parents."
However, she said, limitations of the study include the
self-reports of changes, although that is a standard way of
measuring the behaviors. The challenges, she said, include
obtaining funding for the home visits so parents can have support
in making the changes.
To learn more about childhood obesity, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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