Attacking Child Obesity on All Sides

Obesity risk reduced with less screen time and fewer soft drinks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Fighting teen obesity requires multiple approaches. There is not a single cause of obesity, but there are many different factors that parents can address to reduce kids' risk.

A recent study found that more screen time and soft drinks increase a child's likelihood of being overweight. But playing team sports can lower the risk.

One of the research findings was evidence for the link between drinking soda and remaining or becoming overweight. The increased prevalence of obesity among soda drinkers was small but could not be attributed to coincidence.

"Drink water instead of soda."

The research is not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal and was presented at a conference of public health professionals and researchers.

The study, led by Dong-Chul Seo, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Public Health-Bloomington within Indiana University, looked at the effects of an obesity intervention program held at school over one and a half years.

The program was called HEROES and was in place at 10 schools throughout Indiana, southeastern Illinois and northwestern Kentucky. HEROES stands for Healthy, Energetic, Ready, Outstanding, Enthusiastic Schools.

A total of 5,309 students from 4th through 12th grades were involved in the program, which employed a variety of components aimed at reducing obesity in students.

The HEROES program aimed to make changes in two major areas: school environment and student behavior.

The program aimed to increase physical activity opportunities, healthy food options, learning about health and nutrition, healthy adult role models and family involvement at the school-wide level.

It also aimed to increase physical activity and healthier food choices as well as decrease "empty calorie" consumption at the individual level among students. Empty calories are calories which provide no nutritional benefit.

Throughout the course of the study, 55 percent of the students remained at a healthy or underweight status, and 31 percent remained overweight or obese.

Seven percent became overweight or obese, and six percent dropped from obese to overweight or overweight to normal weight.

When the researchers analyzed who fell into these different categories, a number of patterns arose.

Children were also slightly more likely to be overweight and remain overweight if they were spending more time in front of screens, such as television and the computer.

In terms of moving from a normal weight to overweight or obese, the link was also present for soda consumption, but the link for screen time's contribution was weaker and may have been due to chance.

Two of the factors linked to a lower risk of being overweight were involvement in a team sport and eating meals more frequently.

Dr. Seo therefore said that regular meal patterns with at least three meals a day would seem to help students reach a healthy weight.

School-wide, children were more likely to be overweight if they were attending a school with a lower socioeconomic status, but Dr. Seo said it's not clear what the reasons for this are.

The link could possibly relate to how nutritious the food is that's offered at these schools compared to higher income schools or to the physical education program differences between wealthier and poorer schools.

Or, it could simply have to do with the influence of other students at the school, the researchers suggested.

The study was presented October 30 at the Annual Meeting and Exposition of the American Public Health Association in San Francisco. The HEROES program is funded by the Welborn Baptist Foundation.

The findings of this study should be interpreted with caution because they are preliminary and are still being reviewed by other researchers.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 29, 2012
Last Updated:
October 30, 2012