Ideas, Essays, Reports on health, toy safety, psychology, and whatever else interests us     Two Short Articles on Children's Diet and Obesity

Asking obese children to reduce the amount of time they spend on sedentary activities has the same effect on physical fitness and weight loss as asking them to increase the amount of time they spend being physically active
, according to Dr. Leonard H. Epstein and researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo.  There is a substitution of physical activity for sedentary behaviors when you reduce them. 
    Dr. Epstein and colleagues randomized 90 families with obese 8- to 12-year-olds to one of two weight-loss interventions. Both programs lasted 6 months, were family-based and included dietary and behavior change education, but one focused on reducing children's sedentary behaviors while the other focused on increasing children's physical activity. At the end of the 2-year trial, children in the two groups showed similar reductions in percent overweight, percent body fat and physical work capacity, the investigators report in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 
    Children in the sedentary behavior intervention did not replace all of their targeted sedentary behaviors with physical activity. In fact, some targeted behaviors were replaced with other sedentary behaviors. However, Dr. Epstein noted that even if children reduced targeted behaviors such as watching television or playing video games by 2 hours a day and replaced only half of that time with physical activity, that still represents a major gain in physical activity. 
    Interventions targeting reductions in sedentary behaviors represent "alternative or complementary" options to interventions that focus on increasing physical activity as a means for reducing pediatric obesity.  The goal is to reduce sedentary behaviors as much as possible while offering children a variety of other options for filling their time. "If they choose to be physically active they're going to want to do it...more than if you force them." 
    Dr. Epstein offers several pieces of advice that health professionals can share with families of obese children:    
Enforce rules bette
r about how much time can be spent on sedentary behaviors.
Rearrange the environment
to promote an active lifestyle for all family members.
Model a physically active lifestyle.
Reference: Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2000;154:220-226.

Nine-year-old to 14-year-old children who frequently ate dinner with their families had healthier dietary patterns than those who reported fewer family dinners, according to an article appearing in the March issue of the Archives of Family Medicine. The researchers surveyed 7525 boys and 8677 girls who were the children of participants in the ongoing Nurses' Health Study II, to examine the association between frequency of eating dinner with family and measures of diet quality. The researchers found family dinner to be associated with higher consumption of fruits and vegetables and several beneficial nutrients, including fiber, folate, calcium, iron, vitamins B6, B12, C, and E. They also observed lower consumption of saturated fats, soda, fried foods, and foods that raise blood sugar levels. The researchers determined that adolescents who joined their families for meals were not likely to increase potentially harmful intakes of whole dairy foods, snack foods, and red and processed meats. "Based on the results of this study, health professionals may support the efforts of family members to eat together as a means for improving the quality of diet among older children and adolescents," the authors conclude. The researchers believe that eating family dinners could lead to the consumption of fewer, less healthful ready-made dinners. 
Reference: Arch Fam Med. 2000;9:235-240

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