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Illinois Study Identifies Three Main Risk Factors for Childhood Obesity

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Jan 14, 2014 04:41 PM EST
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An obesity study on US preschoolers linked an inadequate amount of sleep, one or more obese parents, and parental restriction of the child's food as a means of weight control as the three main risk factors regarding instances of obesity in children. (Photo : Reuters)

An obesity study on US preschoolers linked an inadequate amount of sleep, one or more obese parents, and parental restriction of the child's food as a means of weight control as the three main risk factors regarding instances of obesity in children.

The University of Illinois study, published in a recent issue of the journal Childhood Obesity, assessed 22 variables that had previously been identified as predictors of childhood obesity, singling out three that emerged as the strongest predictors, even taking into account the influence of the other 19 variables.

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Brent McBride, a U of I professor of human development and director of the university's Child Development Laboratory, noted that although there is a real risk for childhood obesity in America, each of the three main risk factors identified in the research are things that can be changed.

"What's exciting here is that these risk factors are malleable and provide a road map for developing interventions that can lead to a possible reduction in children's weight status," he said. "We should focus on convincing parents to improve their own health status, to change the food environment of the home so that healthy foods are readily available and unhealthy foods are not, and to encourage an early bedtime."

McBride and his colleagues reached their conclusions after compiling the results of an extensive survey given to 329 parent-child sets who were recruited from child-care programs in east-central Illinois.

The surveys - supplemented with home visits to each family to collect additional information - revealed a wealth of details about demographics, health histories of the parent and child and household eating habits.

According to McBride's research assistant Dipti A. Dev, a U of I nutritional sciences graduate student, one major takeaway from the research is that parents should recognize that their lifestyle preferences and food preferences are being passed along to their children and that these tastes are established in the pre-school years.

"If you, as an adult, live in a food environment that allows you to maintain an elevated weight, remember that your child lives in that environment too. Similarly, if you are a sedentary adult, you may be passing on a preference for television watching and computer games instead of playing chasing games with your preschooler or playing in the park," Dev added.

McBride noted the likelihood of a child's deprivation of certain foods in general leading to an episode of overeating when access to those foods is granted.

"If kids have never had a chance to eat potato chips regularly, they may overeat them when the food appears at a friend's picnic," he said.

McBride recommends parents keep their homes full of a wide variety of healthy food choices and that children be exposed to healthy eating from their parents. He also discourages pre-plating child's food on the kitchen counter, and instead suggests a family-style approach in which individuals select how much they want to eat out of a communal dish, which he says will encourage self-regulation.

"And remember that it takes a certain number of exposures to a food before a child will try it, let alone like it, so you have to offer it to them over and over and over again. And they have to see you eat it over and over," McBride said.

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