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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UTHealth Experts Provide Insight on Causes of Child Obesity, Tactics to End It

Encouraging more social interaction for children rather than just limiting TV time and enforcing strong nutritional policies in schools are two of the ways to decrease child obesity rates, according to researchers from the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus. The school is part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

2015-07-27 Childhood obsity - Dell Center Stock Photo 1

UTHealth researchers published eight new articles, including an introduction from the regional dean, as part of a special obesity issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. The issue, titled “The Science of Childhood Obesity: An Individual to Societal Framework,” provides insights into how to solve the child obesity epidemic and close the gap in the current understanding of its causes.

“Ongoing scientific updates of our understanding of the childhood obesity epidemic are important and urgent due to the rapid increase in the prevalence of obesity in both developed and developing countries during the last 30 to 40 years, despite countless initiatives to address childhood obesity,” said Dr. Cheryl Perry, regional dean and Rockwell Distinguished Chair in Society and Health at The University of Texas School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus.

According to national data, approximately 32 percent of children ages 6 to 19 are overweight or obese in the United States and these rates are even higher in Texas. The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living is a public-private partnership that was developed between UTHealth School of Public Health and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to address child health issues through research, service and education.

Don’t blame television for child obesity

Watching television has typically been viewed as one of the causes of obesity in children. However, according to UTHealth researchers, overweight or obese children may spend more time in front of the television because of social factors and friendship dynamics that lead them to spend less time with friends.

The authors of this paper examined data from the Child Development Supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which included information about the health, development and time use of 2,908 students ages 5 to 18. According to the study results, the more time children spent with friends, the more they engaged in physical activity, which in turn lowered rates of obesity.

“Efforts to reduce child obesity could benefit from careful attention to peer and friendship dynamics rather than simply focusing on time spent watching television,” said Dr. Elizabeth A. Vandewater, lead author and associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the School of Public Health.

Weak school nutrition policies might be counterproductive

Many states across the United States have banned the sale of soda in high schools and some schools have chosen to substitute soda with other sugar-sweetened beverages in vending machines.
Dr. Daniel Taber and co-authors examined how these policies that regulate the sale of sodas in high schools affect alternate sugary drink consumption, such as tea, coffee, energy and sports drinks. The researchers drew their data from the National Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Study, conducted in 2010 with 10,887 participants. Read the full story here.