Three household routines protect against obesity

May 1, 2010

Investigators examined the association between obesity and 3 household routines in young children: regularly eating dinner as a family, sleeping on weekdays and limited TV viewing.

Investigators examined the association between obesity and 3 household routines in young children: regularly eating dinner as a family (more than 5 times per week); sleeping at least 10.5 hours per night on weekdays; and limiting screen viewing (television, video, DVD) to 2 hours per day on weekdays. The researchers analyzed data collected from a nationally representative sample of about 8,550 children who were assessed in 2005 in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, when the children were about 4 years old. They also examined whether the association between childhood obesity and the number of household routines differed according to maternal obesity status, racial/ethnic group, maternal education level, household income, or single-parent status.

About 18% of the children were obese. Parental report revealed that about 1 in 7 children had all 3 household routines and 1 in 8 had none. Each of the household routines was independently associated with a significantly lower prevalence of obesity, reducing the odds of obesity between 23% and 25% for a given routine. In addition, as the number of household routines increased, the prevalence of obesity decreased. Even after adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics such as maternal obesity, the prevalence of obesity was about 40% lower in children exposed to all 3 routines than in children exposed to none of them (Anderson SE, et al. Household routines and obesity in US preschool-aged children. Pediatrics. 2010;125[3]:420-428).

Commentary
As this is a cross-sectional study, the authors caution that they are describing only an association, not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship, between these family practices and decreased childhood obesity. The association may be enough, however. After all, the practices seem to have little downside, and we also have other reasons for encouraging adequate sleep, family meals, and limited screen time for our preschool patients. If this association turns out to be causal, we could have a role in reducing obesity by 40% in preschoolers.-MB