Research Pinpoints 3 Key Ways to Reduce Your Child's Risk of Obesity

A new study has linked childhood obesity to inconsistent routines around mealtime, screen time, and, most importantly, bedtime. 
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This past week my family was on vacation, and our routine got totally out of whack. My kids were going to bed later than usual, eating junk food, and watching more TV than they're typically allowed during our long stretches of traveling in the car.

Given our experience, I wasn't surprised to see a study that found a link between sticking to a routine and a lower chance of childhood obesity. That means keeping mealtimes and bedtime consistent, and limiting kids' screen time, which will lead to better overall well-being, including a healthy weight.

This newest study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, adds to a growing body of research on the topic of how kids' routines affect their waistlines, and in this case, the research finds that sticking to a set schedule during the preschool years impacts health all the way to the preteen years. Researchers believe that teaching kids early in life how to regulate their emotional and physical health is the key.

To reach their conclusions, the team looked at 11,000 kids from the U.K. Millennium Cohort Study, born between 2001-2002. Interestingly, they found that at age 3, just 41 percent of kids always had a regular bedtime, while nearly half had a regular mealtime schedule, and 23 percent had limited screen time.

When we are not traveling, my 3-year-old goes to bed at the same time each night, and eats meals at the same time as well. But I'll admit sometimes I let her watch more TV or play on the iPad more than I'm proud of. Luckily, researchers say having a regular bedtime seemed to be the most important factor in predicting obesity.

Consider that at age 11, 6 percent of the kids researchers looked at were obese, and these were the kids who were more likely not to have a regular bedtime while in preschool. "Sleep is so important and it's important for children in particular," says lead author Sarah Anderson, a professor at Ohio State's College of Public Health. "Although there is much that remains unknown about how sleep impacts metabolism, research is increasingly finding connections between obesity and poor sleep."

The amount of sleep your child needs depends a lot of her age. This video will answer any questions you may have about the amount of shut-eye your baby, toddler or big kid needs.

Here are the American Academy of Pediatrics' sleep guidelines for kids. According to the recommendations, children ages 3-5 should get 10-13 hours of shut-eye per 24 hours. Getting this amount of sleep consistently seems to be one of the most important factors to increase their odds of living a healthy life.

How much sleep is your child getting, and does he have a regular schedule?

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.

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