Household routines like eating dinner together as a family, getting adequate sleep and limiting television viewing time appear to lower obesity risks in children says a study.

Principal investigator Sarah Anderson, assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University, and co-author Robert Whitaker, professor of public health and paediatrics at Temple University, examined the association of childhood obesity among preschool-aged children with the three household routines.

The researchers found that 4-year-olds living in homes with all three routines had an almost 40 percent lower prevalence of obesity than did children living in homes that practiced none of these routines.

Anderson said: “I imagine people are going to want to know which of the routines is most important: Is it limited TV, is it dinner, is it adequate sleep? And what this suggests is that you can’t point to any one of these routines. Each one appears to be associated with a lower risk of obesity, and having more of these routines appears to lower the risk further.” Anderson added: “Our research suggests these routines may have the opportunity for impact. And they may help families move beyond the discussion of eating and exercise to other aspects of behaviour and biology that have potential to be linked to obesity. Parents should talk to their child’s doctor if they’re worried about their child’s weight.

“It may be more difficult for some families than others to have regular meals together, ensure their child gets enough sleep, and limit TV time. However, given their specific circumstances and constraints, families with young children may want to consider what it would take for them to have these routines for their child. We should support parents in their efforts to establish and maintain these household routines.” The study was due to be published in the journal Pediatrics.