According to the Food Research and Action Center website, one quarter of U.S. children aged 2–5 are overweight or obese. Researchers from the University of Illinois, Urbana, believe they have identified the top risk factors for preschool-age obesity.

The investigators surveyed 329 parent-child pairs, asking about demographics, health histories and feeding habits. There were also home visits in which assistants gathered height and weight measurements.

“Of 22 potential risk factors, three were found to be significantly associated with child overweight/obesity,” stated the study authors. “These [were] child nighttime sleep duration, parent BMI, and parental restrictive feeding for weight control.”

Here is a breakdown of the data:

  • Children who slept only 8 hours or less had a 2.2% greater likelihood of being obese.
  • Children with an obese parent were 1.9% more likely to be obese.
  • Children whose parents employed restrictive feeding practices were 1.75% more likely to be obese.

“What’s exciting here is that these risk
factors are malleable and provide a road map for developing interventions that can lead to a possible reduction in children’s weight status,” explained study author Brent McBride, PhD, a University of Illinois professor of human development, and director of the university’s Child Development Laboratory, in a press release. “We should focus on convincing parents to improve their own health status, to change the food environment of the home so that healthy foods are readily available and unhealthy foods are not, and to encourage an early bedtime.”

The study was published in Childhood Obesity (2013; 9 [5], 399–408).

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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