The Fight Against Childhood Obesity Begins At Home

September 13, 2013

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.-CDC

Childhood Obesity Rates Can Be Reduced With Healthy Habits At Home

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and you will find many articles in the press and news anchors on every channel talking about the increased seriousness of how obesity affects our children. But as we all well know, we should be mindful of the fight against childhood obesity each and every day.  And if you are a parent, that fight, that very serious battle begins at home when your children are very young. Parents have a great influence in establishing healthy lifestyle habits for their children and a newly released study proves just how vital the parental role is in preventing childhood obesity.

Researchers of a study recently published in JAMA Pediatrics found that families at-risk who improve home-based routines were able to slow down weight gain in young children.

Chief of General Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children , Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, led the study. "Our findings demonstrate that relatively simple, no-cost changes in routines within the home can help children maintain or achieve a healthful weight." she said in a recent news release.

Four Massachusetts community health centers located in mostly low-income, minority populations took part in the study which included 121 families. The families were divided into two separate groups.  Each family had children from the ages of 2-5 who all had televisions in their bedrooms or where they slept.  At the beginning and end of the six-month study, each family received an in-home visit in which household routines and surveys were administered and research assistants measured the children's weight and height.  Families in the control group received monthly educational packets that included information on early childhood development. The intervention group took part in a program called "Healthy Habits, Happy Homes".  The program encourages families to:

1.  Have regular meals together.
2.  Limit television time (no more than two hours a day) and remove the TV from the child's bedroom.
3.  Set a bedtime routine and ensure adequate sleep. (11 hours)
4.  Limit fast food to once a week.
5.  Limit juice consumption to four ounces a day.
6.  Eliminate soda consumption.
7.  Drink plenty of water.

The intervention program also encouraged parents to practice healthy role modeling and limit setting. Participants received regular texts messages and monthly coaching phone conferences, newsletters, and toys that supported the program's goals: coloring books, stickers, activity toys, and books for bedtime reading.  Parents were unaware that the encouraged lifestyle changes were designed to limit weight gain in their children.

At the conclusion of the study the following facts were found:

1.  Children in the intervention group were sleeping 45 minutes longer than those in the control group.
2.  Intervention group children dropped TV time by an hour on the weekends while children in the control group increased their TV time.
3.  Both groups reduced a small amount of TV time during the week.  The intervention group had a greater reduction.
4.  There was little change in regular family meals. (Perhaps due to the fact that the families already shared at least six regular meals together each week.)
5.  Television sets mostly remained where they children slept.
6.  Intervention group children showed a body mass index (BMI) drop at an average of 0.18 % but it was revealed that there was an average increase of 0.21% in the control group.

"The Healthy Habits, Happy Homes intervention was able to slow weight gain relative to height increase in these children, which is important because as our earlier research has shown “ rapid weight gain in these early years can lead to higher rates of obesity later in life" says researcher Taveras. "For now, interventions such as ours can be one way of keeping young children off an obesity trajectory that would be hard to alter by the time they enter middle school.

The study was funded by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What steps do you take at home to help your children fight against childhood obesity?  Share your comments below!