Study Links School Lunch And TV To Childhood Obesity
The researchers found that among middle-school children, the behaviors most often linked with obesity were school lunch consumption and two hours or more of daily TV viewing. The study further noted that while some habits were the same for all overweight and obese children, there were differences in habits that actually influenced body weight.
The study looked at 1,714 sixth grade students enrolled in Project Healthy Schools, a school-based program aimed at reducing childhood obesity and its long-term health risks, focusing primarily on sixth-grade students. The study looked at students enrolled at 20 schools in the southeastern Michigan communities of Detroit, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Owosso with a median age of 11.
The study found that those girls who drank two servings of milk each day were less likely to be obese, while boys who played on a sports team were also at a healthier weight.
“Additional work is needed to help us understand the beneficial impact of improving school lunches and decreasing screen time,” said cardiologist and senior study author Elizabeth Jackson, MD, MPH, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School in a statement. “Presumably playing video games, or watching TV replaces physical activity.”
Not surprisingly the study noted that obese boys and girls had poor cardiovascular profiles with lower HDL-cholesterol, higher triglycerides, higher blood pressure and higher heart rate recovery – indicating a lower level of fitness – compared to normal weight kids.
“Cardiovascular disease doesn’t just start in adulthood, and there may be factors that could help us identify during youth or adolescence who might be at increased risk for developing health problems later on,” Jackson added.
While other studies have linked eating school lunch with obesity, Jackson noted that the influence of socioeconomic status needs to be more closely examined. Poor children who are eligible for free or reduced school lunch may already be overweight, so the link between obesity and lower socioeconomic status should be more closely evaluated this new study suggested.
“Although we were not able to examine the specific nutritional content of school lunches, previous research suggests school lunches include nutrient-poor and calorie-rich foods,” said Jackson.
The University of Michigan study further added a new element that could be used to reduce childhood obesity while providing a real-world view of the gender differences in risk factors. The study noted that milk consumption could protect girls from obesity but apparently had no impact for boys.
The study’s authors noted that the explanation could be a reduction in sugary drinks, which girls replaced with milk.
TV viewing habits were also examined. The University of Michigan study noted that 61 percent of obese boys and 63 percent of obese girls reported watching television for two or more hours a day. The assumption here is that watching TV replaced physical activity.
However, gender again could suggest differences. Obese girls were more likely to use a computer, while obese boys were found to be playing video games more often than normal weight boys. However, video games, which remain popular with many kids, were not as strongly linked to obesity as in other studies.
“We did not find a significant association between time spent playing video games and obesity among boys, which has been observed in other studies,” said the study’s lead author Morgen Govindan, an investigator with the Michigan Cardiovascular Research and Reporting Program at the U-M. “Although we saw a similar trend, the association was not as strong perhaps due to our smaller sample size.”
Another recent study, conducted by researchers at George Washington University, looked into whether video games could help fight obesity among young players. Others studies on obesity have looked at whether a late bed time could lead to obesity, and whether Facebook use might be an obesity indicator.