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Slash Your Child's Risk for Obesity by 40%--Without Diet or Exercise

By , SparkPeople Blogger
We put a lot of the blame for childhood obesity on fast food, school lunches, and sedentary lifestyles, and certainly all of these factors (along with many others) are at play. But can we really do much about these factors, especially in the short-term? Fast food is here to stay. While these restaurants offer more healthy options than ever before, people are still ordering the old standbys. Parents are busy—too busy to cook at home or aren't knowledgeable about how to prepare homemade meals at all. And when we're too busy to cook dinner, the same goes for lunch. School lunches are a way of life for busy and low-income households that rely on them. And kids aren't as active—we know that. But we don't live in the times we used to, when kids could go outside all day long without supervision—something we'd never allow this day and age. So are we powerless to change the fate of our children?

Research published in Pediatrics shows that reducing your child's risk of obesity is simpler we may think. In fact, three easy household strategies can decrease a child's obesity risk by 40%--and not one of them has anything to do with fast food, school lunches, exercise or overhauling your family's lifestyle.

Researchers from Ohio State University and Temple University looked at three household routines to find out which ones correlated with obesity in young children (4-year-olds in this case). Of the more than 8,500 children in the study, nearly 20% of were obese already. (That part really jumped out at me. Something needs to change if one out of five preschoolers is obese.)

Of the three simple household routines, the more a child followed, the lower his or her chances of becoming obese were. So even if you just implemented just one or two, you could reduce your child's risk of obesity more than if you did not take any of these actions. The simple steps were:
  1. Regularly eating the evening meal as a family (at least 5 nights per week)
  2. Getting adequate nighttime sleep on weekdays (at least10.5 hours per night)
  3. Limiting screen (television, video) time on weekdays (less than 2 hours per day)
That's it. No talk of vegetables, whole grains, sports leagues, soda consumption, chocolate milk, phys ed classes or packing lunches. Even smaller changes—things that parents can do TODAY without overhauling their lives—really do work.

It's easy to see why. Eating dinner as a family means you're likely to consume more nutritious foods and less fat and calories, and family meals have many more benefits than nutrition. Getting enough sleep can regulate one's appetite and give you more energy, perhaps making kids less likely to overeat and more likely to be active during the day. And screen time has been shown to affect a child's weight, not only because time spent watching TV is sedentary, but also because commercials DO influence how children eat, even though parents are the food buyers and providers.

I'm sure that many parents feel overwhelmed about changing their family's habits, but this study shows that small steps can make a very big difference. Perhaps parents can start with these habits to gain some control and empowerment, and then feel ready to take on more changes like cooking more wholesome meals, packing lunches, and getting active as a family. As SparkPeople recommends for adults losing weight and getting healthier, starting small (eating ONE vegetable per day, drinking ONE cup of water, walking for TEN minutes) helps people achieve success early on can act as a springboard for you to take your program to the next level. We just need to approach our children with the same mentality and we can wipe out childhood obesity sooner than we ever imagined.

Do you think these three steps can really make a difference in the fight against childhood obesity? Do you implement these (or other) actions in your own household?

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BLOND1E 5/22/2021
Great article Report
CECELW 10/18/2020
Oh boy!! This is an excellent article. I don't know any parent who doesn't identify with this problem . The only time we got to eat dinner together is on my day off. Report
ERIN_POSCH 8/11/2020
thanks for sharing Report
We, the parents and grandparents, are responsible for helping children make good choices. I need to do a better job. Report
We're "bad" in that we always eat dinner as a family but usually in front of the TV (unless we go out). It's really the only time on weekdays that the kids watch TV, so it ends up being about 30-60 minutes per day - max. All the other time is spent on homework, which can take up to 2 hours per night. Grr!

I send my kids up to get ready for bed at 8 and lights out is at 9. They get up at 6:30, so it's not 10.5 hours of sleep. I think that's pretty unrealistic, not to mention, you can't force a kid to fall asleep. Mine sometimes stay up late & sometimes crash right away...a lot of it has to do with whether or not they're having a growth spurt. Report
This article made me happy!! We don't have cable so the kids tv time is limited and they get 10.5 hours of sleep we lack in the all eating dinner together :-(I we will definitely work on it though. Report
As a nation, what are we doing to our kids? Obesity among children has tripled since 1980 in the United States. Today, there are approximately 12.5 million children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years that are obese. Type 2 diabetes is closely linked to obesity. Do you know that type 2 diabetes is also called adult onset diabetes? With our current trend the name needs to change.

According to an article on, doctors are predicting that at least half of the over weight children will grow into obese adults. Obesity increases the risks for other chronic diseases and doctors are predicting that diseases and complications seen usually in 60s, 70s and 80s will be seen in much younger population. The time to break the cycle is now!
so true. must remember baby steps for the babies. ;-) Report
10.5 Hours of sleep! I do not see how that would be possible for anyone that works or kids do sports.. I would have to put my kids to bed at 7:30PM when we get home at 6PM everyday. We still have dinner do homework and go for a walk. My son has football practice til 8PM 3 nights a week. We def eat dinner together 7 nights a week and may watch 30 min of T.V in any given day. My children get 9 hours of sleep per night and I do not think that 1.5 hours is going to make or break them in the risks of obesity. Report
This was a great article. I will start implementing these today! Report
Yes, i think these three steps will help and has helped my two boys, which were very atheletic, slim, and handsome. Report
Thank you for this info! My three kiddy's have been a right pain to be around, and it's probably down to the three - we haven't been eating as a family, they have still been up at stupidly late hours for a school night, and they have been watching way too much of the TV!

I have been ill but I really have let things slip! I haven't even been visiting sparkpeople, that's how bad I let it get!

A new start in a new month! My kids aren't going to know what hit them tonight! Report
I have two out of the three...still trying to cut the tv time...but since I started losing weight I have notice that my kids eat what I make...whether its something new or a new version of something they like...but at least they are trying new stuff...we now eat dinner together and it more fun that way too...we get to talk more and laugh together while talking about what we are eating and they actually ask what will be on the menu for the next day Report
Another poster gave me an idea. Those of us that grow gardens should grow a little extra for the food banks. Maybe partner with the food banks to suggest those in need grow gardens. Maybe seeds and canning supplies could be donated at well. Report
I have three boys-8, 9 and 11. I homeschool so i do have more control than many people, but I find that they all make better food choices when I remind them often of what their bodies need and why. I never make them eat things they don't like but I also don't make them additional food. If they don't want what is for dinner than they must come up with a healthy alternative on their own. My youngest is my picky eater. He loves fruits, grains and meats but the only vegtables he will eat from a store are peas and corn. Interestingly he will eat just about anything fresh out of our garden though. He says they just taste better and it is probably because I grow them all organic. In the winter I have to sneak in some veggies with things like smoothies with them in it. Report
My kids already meet the first two goals but the later one we need to work on. Not sure how much tv they may watch but I dare say it is over two hours, especially on the weekends. Report
Its all true and I know it first hand having 8 children in the house. We are having major problems with the boys and the video games, TV, ect., they actually cry at age 15 if they are told no more games for the evening, they are so addicted. I know without them they would be much healthier in every aspect. Great article and right on... Report
These are standard practices in our household. Our son is 2 1/2 and from the time he started to eat solids, we ate dinner as a family. Dinner always includes vegetables with the main entree, he may not always eat them but they are offered. I have never encouraged the clean plate club, when he is done, he is done. We also do not make a different meal if he would prefer to eat something other than what we are eating. We all eat the same thing. We eat the the dining room table which is separate from the living room in our house, which is easy for us not to have the TV involved at all but I remember growing up with a tv in the kitchen where we ate and it was always on. Snacks and all meals are eaten sitting at the table only. There are some exceptions, ie. movie night with popcorn etc. The tv is rarely on at all during the week and on weekends, he watches no more than 1-2 hours, if any at all. As far as is most important. Same bedtime at 7 pm every night and he is up around 6 am every day. 11 hours of sleep or he is cranky!!! I totally agree...these three things are necessary and a great lifestyle for kids. My son loves to help me cook our meals, he eats a variety of foods, we get a good amount of exercise, and he is a healthy and happy toddler. Report
thank-you for all the tips i may not be losing much but it is shifting lol Report
Fascinating. I didn't have the benefit of family meals when I was a kid because I was the youngest and my siblings were quite a bit older. They were off doing their own things, my mom was tired, I used to eat by myself most nights. And I stayed up pretty much as long as I pleased. Writing down everything I eat on Sparkpeople has really helped me combined with learning what a portion is. It's definitely not two bowls of cereal in a row. :] Report
Great article!!!

We have always eaten together as a family, so I have that one covered. Now, the 10.5 hours of sleep is a challenge for me. I do think my children need to get to bed earlier, but it doesn't always work out exactly how I'd like. (Ages 9 and 12) So I will continue working on that one along with the third suggestion of limiting TV to two hours. I will definitely focus on those two and will even create a SparkStreak for these!

Thank you, Nicole! Report
great article Report
I agree with this article, I do remember reading somewhere that not getting enough sleep on a regular basis for adults can cause overeating beacuase the body system gets out of whack with not enough sleep and people overeat, so I see how getting enough rest is crucial for kids. I know for a fact kids are not nice people to be around if they do not get enough rest on a regular basis, I had a friend who wanted to be their kid's friend instead of parent and let the kid sleep whenever she chose to, sometimes 11pm sometimes midnight! Then they had to get up early for school and the mom for work at like 5 am! The kid was always in a state of perpetual crankiness, disobediant, and just stubburn and not easy to be around at all. She was always whining even past the age for whining and she cried all the time for no reason. I told my friend that she is harming that child by letting her pick her own bedtimes she is not old enough or mature enough to know when it's time for bed. Kids need a regular bedtime and the proper amount of sleep and they need more sleep than adults. My mom always strictly kept us to a regular bedtime we only got to stay up a little later on the weekends because we did not have to get up early, but bedtime was bedtime and we always stuck to it. Plus regular bedtimes are good for the parents too because parents get to have some time to themselves in the evening after the kids are in bed. ;) That's the time to read, watch a good R-rated movie or just relax in whatever way you want. So regular bedtimes benefit parents and kids.

I can also see how eating meals at the dinner table would help because you can see what the kid is eating and portion control better, plus you can all interact better at the dinner table so dinner time meals together I can see how that is a good benefit too. We always ate breakfast before school & dinner together at the table when I was growing up so it does make a difference. And of course not watching TV all day but being more active is a good thing too, so yes I can agree with this article.

But I do know that some parents have to work crazy shifts just to put food on the table so don't beat yourself up if you are not able to do the dinner together thing, but for those who work regular shifts they should try to do it that way. Report
We already do this at our home. Eating together is a must here! Most days were are even able to eat breakfast as well as dinner. Kids are in bed early and rested the next morning. It is great!! Report
It looks like someone confused correlation and causation. It is true that the study controlled for some other factors, but they said these behaviors were associated with, not the cause of, lower obesity rates. Report
Jeanie beans I am with you, I grew up in England had no TV till I came to the US. I always ate my meals with some part of my extended family since we ere homeless and yes bed time was strictly enforced after 7pm was adult time. So I really do not see any other connection for me since I was homeless I was provided with school dinners. Huge adult size servings, lots of carbs and puddings. I hope they look at this again. Pat in Maine Report
Great info Report
This article was very good. We always eat dinner together. I have worked out since I was a teenager and all 3 of my children have picked up the habit.
My youngest also takes
ballet, tap, and jazz. All of them are slim, with the exception of my 18 year old.
He looks like he stepped out of the pages of Muscle and Fitness! I believe children learn by example. Report
It's truely amazing, the parenting that goes on out there when it comes to food and feeding. It's no wonder so many of our precious children are overweight/obese and have adult diseases. So sad. Report
Piffle. Not to say these may not be factors, but let's not oversimplify the problem. I have been overweight since I was 4. It was the 50's and we always ate homemade meals together as a family, had a regularly scheduled bedtime that was enforced, and didn't even own a TV set. We played games together as a family and lived the Donna Reed life and I am still fat. Report
We already eat family meals most nights of the week (even though some of those meals are not cooked in our house), and we definitely meet the screen time limit on week nights (though our rules are a little more relaxed on weekends). Need to work on the sleep... Report
Wouldn't it be lovely if every child had this privelage of those three steps - sleep at night, eat with family, don't watch too much TV. Child poverty is a huge issue within industralized countries including Canada and the USA. Food banks regularly provide carbohydrate quick to make meals with little protein or fresh fruit/veggies. The bottom line is, the food banks give out what is donated to them and fresh whole foods are expensive, along with being difficult to store. Go down to your local food bank, take a look at the foods provided to familes and then, wonder about the nutritional value. Thankfully there are food banks and children do have food in their bellies. At the same time, lets recognize what a diet of high carboyhdrates (not always the healthy kind) has on a developing body. Add in that many children live without food, eat only once per day or can go for days without a meal, then when food arrives, eat until they burst. How about those children who live in homes where substance abuse prevails, where domestic violence is the norm, where street violence is so frequent that its simply part of the landscape - they do not sleep. The disruption of sleep creates imbalances in the body and the metabolism is also affected - this can create weight gain in some children. Or how about the parents who are struggling from home to home, job to job, city to city, doing the best they can do and still cannot make ends meet. Their children parent one another, they do the best they can and yes, often unhealthy eating patterns and foods become the norm. Look at the schools that have vending machines filled with junk food and soda pop, as a means to raise cash for various programs. Or classrooms that now allow children to snack on junk food while doing schoolwork. Or the children that are shuffled through the foster care system and find solace in (for some) food. We can only create the changes that we can create and its wonderful that families have banded together to become healthy, to live healthy and pass this on for generations to come. At the same time, lets not forget those who simply survive and weight is merely an outer symptom of much deeper issues that include the inability or lack of opportunity to sleep well, live in safety, eat healthy and spend quality time with family. Report
Thoughtful responses from sparkers! I have noticed a huge difference for myself in how I feel now that we are eating dinner at the table most nights! I noticed I was feeling unapreciated when my thoughtfully prepared food went down mindlessly as we watched child appropriate tv. Now my partner and five yo help to clear the table before and after plus we talk about the day- it's a great way to chill out. Report
Thanks for sharing. Report
Such common sense! I worry about my grandkids and their lifestyles. Once in a while they come to my house, we sit down to eat at the table with some homecooked food, and it is a novel experience to them, like it almost never happens. How sad; they're only 10 and 12. When they come over it also is hard for them to break away from the TV, gameboys and video games to simply spend time doing other things, like hanging out. I make them put their cell phones away. My husband and I make efforts whenever they're around let them experience something different. Life today for parents is hard, but I know if they want to make changes for the better, it's always possible. Prioritize. Report
Numerous studies have also shown that kids in families that eat together at least two or three times a week are far less likely to get involved in drugs and alcohol during adolescence. Just in general, #1 is one of the best things you can do as a parent. Report
I have 2 teenagers. We have always tried to eat as many meals as possible together. There are so many advantages beyond just health. It makes your family relationships stronger, keeps you more involved in your kids' lives...studies have shown many advantages. Once they get involved in lots of activities, it gets harder, but don't give up! Report
Thank you for sharing the article. It was very good. Our family has always been good about having family meals together. Report
I am the "mean" stepmom who sends her kids to bed "earlier than anyone else." LOL. My 6th graders (twins) go to bed at 8:30 on weeknights and 9 p.m. on weekends. My 9th grader goes to bed at 10 (I wish it was earlier, though). All three get up between 6 and 6:45 a.m. during the week. I let them sleep in on the weekends.

I enforce a No TV rule on school nights, as well as no computer (except for homework) on school nights, although this past week we have been watching the Winter Olympics after the kids are ready for bed. The rest of the week (weekends), they get 4 hours of computer time and unlimited TV.

The one thing I wish to do better on is family dinner more than 3x per week. I manage those 3 nights a week, and the rest of the time we are busy with activities and appointments. It's definitely something that we can improve!

I think these three rules are great and are a first step in the right direction towards keeping our kids healthy! Report
I grew up sitting at the kitchen table as a family eating dinner together. There was no such thing as eating in front of the tv. Report
I have already passed these on to my daughters - thanks. Report
Great article. We've gotten our son into more sports these days which means more movement at school and at home. We practice with him and he has lost 50 pounds. It does help. Report
Makes me think I am doing somethings right, but could do more to be better... eating at the table, what a chore. We go through short periods of time where we do this and then we fall back into eating in front of the TV, only to repeat. I guess our attempts show we are at least thinking about it, knowing it's what we should be doing. Report
I grew up eating in front of the tv. i thought veggies came in a can. WHo knew they grew in the ground and could be sooo delish when not microwaved?!?!? My 2 sisters and I are all obese. Parents who grew up in the depression was alot of the problem. two pork chops was a serving, not one. I have 4 children. Only 1 is tending to be overweight and he is 8. We eat all of our meals at the dinner table as a family when we are at home. My kids don't ever remember a time they didn't eat at the table. Even when they make a snack, they sit at the table to eat. I do beleive it will make a difference in obesity. Even if it doesn't, studies show it makes a HUGE difference in the way your children handle peer pressure about drugs, smoking, sex, etc. My kidds know we will sit as a family, pray together, and then talk about our day. They don't want to fess up or be told on by a sibling for something they have done. We don't allow phones to be answered or texts or toys at the table. It is our undivided family time where we give one aonther some well-needed undivided attention. My kids have come home from other people's homes and commented how weird it is to eat in fronnt of the tv and not talk. Some of their friends' familie have begun to eat at the table. It makes a HUGE difference!!! Report
I agree with all three steps. specially the one of limiting the amount of t.v. our children watch. let not only eat together as a family but also do more interaction with our children. Do more table games, reading time, even a bible devotional. Report
These are great ideas. I love introducing new fruits and veggies to my son. We have the 3 bite rule. Three bites of a food must be taken prior to vetoing it for that meal. I laugh because edamame was rejected on the way it looked, but after the bites it is now one of his favorite foods. TV not so much of an issue because I no longer have cable. Video game time is earned for reading, chores, extra math practice & being active. Report
I have two children and one step-child - each of which has vastly different eating/exercise habits. The one who eats the most fruits and veggies is also the one that has been obese since the age of 7. She is also the blood sibling of the thinnest, who eats no veggies, but loves to exercise, eats fruit and practices portion control. These two have had the same exposure to television watching, the same levels of sleep deprivation and the same levels of emotional stress, yet they are exact opposites on the obesity scale.

My step-daughter has had the most exposure to television, having had one in her bedroom from a very early age, and the least exposure to family meals. She is also the pickiest eater, but enjoys exercise. She also has hip, knee and back problems from taking gymnastics as a child, but is neither over nor under weight and never has been.

I'm not sure there is anything so definitive that can prevent or lessen childhood obesity. I think there is a lot that is more individualized to the child and must be addressed as such. Report
This is an excellent post - a healthy childhood begins at home. Parents must stop blaming external factors and take a hard look at home life - these 3 steps are the beginning (although I believe that tv/electronics/computers should all be limited to weekends and have no place being on during the week). That goes for parents, too! I try to limit my computer time to work and to times (like now!) that the family is still asleep. It's hard to limit computer/tv time for kids when the parents don't practice what they preach. Report
So much has to do with family values and how a home is run. As a teacher, I'd say it's a sure bet that kids with these 3 components are also doing much better in school! If some of my struggling students could add just these 3 things, I know their success rates would improve! Report
I do think these steps can make a difference. These steps that we teach our children now they will take with them when they move out. Report