By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
I just read an article published in the journal Pediatrics which once again validated the importance of family routines. In this study, researchers from Ohio State University looked at household routines as they related to childhood obesity, an ever-escalating problem.
The research, conducted in 2005 but published this year, analyzed over 8,500 four-year-old children. 18 percent of the children were identified as obese. Families were asked if 1) they regularly ate evening meals together, 2) did their children have a bedtime and receive adequate sleep, and 3) was TV time limited within the home? When looked at more closely, a little more than half of the children reported having family dinners 6 or 7 evenings a week.
About 57 percent of the children who were reported to get 10.5 hours of sleep per weeknight. Only about 40 percent of the studied children were reported to watch less than 2 hours of television or movie viewing per weekday. When looked at in terms of those children who were exposed to all three routines, the prevalence of obesity was 14 percent, while those children not exposed to any of the three routines had a prevalence rate for obesity of 24.5 percent.
The research also found that the number of household routines was a predicator of obesity, and that by adding a routine, there was a 17 percent reduction in odds for obesity.
These household routines seem to be fairly easy to initiate, in that they may be accomplished without cost, etc. Establishing good routines for family meals has repeatedly been shown to improve a child's academic success, attention, risk of using alcohol and drugs and overall well being. If it could also reduce the incidence of obesity what a win! Just one more reason to plan for a family to eat dinner together.
This study did not even discuss healthy food choices, which might make the statistics even more compelling, and what about adding eating breakfast together? Bedtime routines are important for all children and the lack of sleep has been documented to cause numerous problems.
We as parents all know children are "cranky" when they're sleepy, and as they get older lack of sleep impacts a child's school performance, alertness and focus, and may even be a factor in a teens driving safety. I think all children need to have a "bedtime," and even teens need to know when to go to bed!
Lastly, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children under 2 years of age not watch TV, and for those older than 2, there should be no more than 2 hours of television/DVD/movie/computer time per day. I would add that children should not watch TV prior to their school day, and that includes watching movies in the car en route to school! I just don't get that.
Start with one of these routines and as it becomes "routine," add another. See what you think!
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at www.kidsdr.com.
This column was originally printed in the November 3, 2013 - November 16, 2013 edition.