Healthy Family Life Best Prevention for Obesity

Looking for simple, effective ways to help kids grow up bucking the national obesity trend?

Here's advice from a new study:

—Make sure kids eat healthfully, starting with a good breakfast every day.

—Limit kids' sedentary free time.

—Promote positive self-esteem in children.

—Be a good role model for a healthy life.

Those tips come from Ashley Crossman, a graduate student at Arizona State University's sociology department. She looked at data from national surveys of about 6,400 teens and young adults.

Crossman presented her findings in Philadelphia at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting.

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Healthy Habits

Participants who grew up to have a healthy weight had some common traits. As teens, they ate breakfast, had good self-esteem, and were too busy to spend tons of time watching TV or playing computer games.

Their parents also had some things in common: healthy weight, more education, and control over their kids' diets. Parents' income and kids' race didn't make a difference, notes Crossman.

Participants were in 7th-12th grade when the first survey was done in 1995. They were young adults when a follow-up survey was done six years later.

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Checking the Numbers

Want some statistics to back up Crossman's advice?

Participants with "bad television and eating habits are 33% more likely to become overweight or obese than those from families with good television and eating habits," writes Crossman.

"This demonstrates the importance of encouraging adolescents to eat breakfast regularly and watch less television," notes Crossman. She defined "bad" TV habits as watching "a great deal of television," not an occasional show.

Some more numbers (from the CDC) to consider:

—16 percent of American kids aged 6-19 are overweight or obese. That's more than 9 million kids.

—30 percent of American adults aged 20 or older (over 60 million people) are obese.

Childhood weight problems increase the likelihood of persistent weight problems as an adult.

Being overweight or obese raises the risk of health problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and osteoarthritis, notes the CDC's web site.

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Food for Thought

Many factors affect weight, but "our research suggests that prevention must begin at home," writes Crossman. Healthy eating and active lifestyles are part of the solution she recommends.

Physical activity is promoted as part of a healthy life (get a doctor's OK first). In this study, "active" didn't always mean tons of exercise. Teen's part-time jobs, volunteer activities, and hobbies also helped by trimming time with TV or computer games, notes Crossman.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children at risk should be identified by virtue of family history of obesity, and other factors such as environment. Parents and caregivers should be encouraged to promote healthy eating patterns by offering nutritious snack such as fruit and vegetables, low-fat diary products, and whole grains; setting appropriate limits and modeling healthy food choices. They also recommend limiting television and viewing time to a maximum of two hours a day.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: American Sociological Association's 100th Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Aug. 13-16, 2005. CDC: "Overweight and Obesity." News release, Arizona State University. American Academy of Pediatrics.