Earlier this month, Michelle Obama launched what she called a "very ambitious" program to end the American plague of childhood obesity in a single generation. The nationwide campaign called "Let's Move" will tackle four key areas of childhood health and nutrition: Getting parents more informed about nutrition and exercise, improving the quality of food in schools, making healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families, and focusing more on physical education.
"We all know the numbers," Obama said. "I mean, one in three kids are overweight or obese, and we're spending $150 billion a year treating obesity-related illnesses. So we know this is a problem, and there's a lot at stake."
Any initiative that tackles childhood obesity and aims to provide healthier food to children sounds good to me. So I'll do whatever I can to support the first lady's efforts in my daughters' schools and community programs. It turns out the one place where I can have the most affect on my daughters' health and nutrition is in my own home. And it's not by counting calories or making my kids run around a track.
Not that healthy foods and exercise aren't a good thing; they most certainly are. But studies show that what's even more important to the future health of our children are the behaviors surrounding food, health and exercise in the home. A new study, to be published in the March issue of Pediatrics suggests that simple behaviors like sitting down to dinner together as a family, getting adequate sleep and limiting time in front of the TV, can go a long way in helping a child fend off obesity.
"Four-year-olds who regularly ate dinner with the family, got enough sleep and watched less than two hours of TV a day were 40 percent less likely to be obese," said the study's lead author, Sarah Anderson, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health at Ohio State University in Columbus.
Pretty simple, right? Still, I know that with today's busy schedules, it can be difficult to achieve all of these goals in the same night (or even the same week!) The good news is that any one of them alone can also have a profound effect.
"Each of these routines was related to a lower risk of obesity, so you can choose to try the one that you think you'll have the most success with. If you're already doing one, consider doing another," suggested Anderson.
The study's author also suggests removing televisions from children's bedrooms to offer the double benefit of helping you limit TV time while helping kids get more sleep.
Sure, these ideas may not be the most popular for kids who have grown up eating and sleeping in front of their TV's, but for the health of your kids and the health of your family, it's absolutely worth making an effort to make these changes.