Family meals cut childhood obesity risk

New research from the US has shown the health benefits for preschool-aged children may outweigh the noise, mess and fuss.

Simple household routines which were more commonplace in the 1940s, such as family dinnertime, getting plenty of sleep and limited television time, could reduce the risk of childhood obesity by up to 40 percent, Ohio State University's Research News reported.

"The routines were protective even among groups that typically have a high risk for obesity," said Dr Sarah Anderson, the study's lead author and assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University. "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 of these routines was found to effective on its own, but the combination of all three has a significantly higher impact on reducing obesity risks in four-year-olds.

Children who lived in households where the family had dinner together at least five nights a week, who got at least 10.5 hours of sleep a night and were limited to watching less than two hours of television on weeknights, had an obesity rate of 14 percent. Those who lived in households practising none of these routines had an obesity rate of 24.5 percent, Research News reported.

Co-authors Dr Anderson and Professor Robert Whitaker, professor of public health and paediatrics at Temple University, analysed data collected in 2005 regarding 8550 children born in 2001 as part of a study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

"Our research suggests these routines may have the opportunity for impact. And they may help families move beyond the discussion of eating and exercise to other aspects of behaviour and biology that have potential to be linked to obesity," Dr Anderson wrote in the article to be published in the March issue of Pediatrics.

"Parents should talk to their child's doctor if they're worried about their child's weight."

The Medical Journal of Australia reported that one in four Australian school-aged children are overweight or obese.