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 better 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.