How Your Kids Should Spend 4% of Their Day

A recent study from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University and published in the journal Obesity shows that a lack of physical exercise is the biggest predictor of childhood obesity. While this may seem like somewhat of a no-brainer, it got us wondering what role foods and beverages play in predicting childhood obesity. For more information on what this study means for our kids, we reached out to Connie Diekman, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD, FADA, FAND, and Sarah Downs, RD, MBA.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the fundamental cause of childhood obesity is an “energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.” If left untreated in childhood, obesity can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer and other health issues in adulthood. The WHO also notes the increase in childhood obesity globally is attributable to many factors including a global shift to diets that are energy dense, those that are high in fat and calories but low in vitamins and minerals.

While the study suggests that lack of physical activity is the biggest predictor of childhood obesity, Connie Diekman says other factors can contribute to obesity as well. “The study pointed to several behavioral risk factors – low physical activity, high TV viewing and short sleep – with each contributing in a different way. Overall, the study found that sedentary behavior is a key risk, and time spent in front of a TV is one of the strongest factors associated with obesity and inactivity,” she said.

Findings from the study reinforce those of other studies showing that a sedentary lifestyle and lack of sleep play critical roles in weight management and the risk of obesity. But while previous studies have indicated socioeconomic factors play a large role in childhood obesity, findings from this study suggest positive impacts of physical activity on obesity risk are similar regardless of income, geographic location or cultural differences. According to our own nutrition advisor Sarah Downs, RD, MBA, “The bottom line is that physical activity is important for everyone.”

So what can parents do to help reduce the risk of obesity in their children?

“As a registered dietitian, my message is for parents to always be a good role model for your children. How? Show them:

  • how to make, and enjoy healthier food choices
  • how to enjoy appropriate portions
  • how to incorporate physical activities to establish a healthy lifestyle

“Being a good role model and doing things together are two very good ways to help kids develop healthy lifestyle patterns,” said Diekman.

So how much exercise should our kids be getting?

According to Diekman, the 2008 Guidelines for Physical Activity for Americans is a great guide for kids aged six and older. “In those guidelines, it is recommended that children and adolescents do 60 minutes of activity daily. While this might seem like a lot, this can include sports, walking, bike riding, games and many activities that kids would consider fun,” she said.

The image “Videogame” by dave.see is licensed under CC BY 2.0.