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Good habits may change as kids get older

January 12, 2009 |  3:55 pm

Children typically develop different routines and activities as they age, but not all of those new pursuits may be good for them.

K1lp9rncxxA new study reports that as children get older, some of their eating habits and leisure activities begin to change for the worse, as they consume more unhealthful food and spend more time being sedentary.

Researchers studied 174 children 2 to 12 years old and grouped them into preschool-age kids (2 to 5.9 years old) and school-age kids (6 to 12.9 years old). Those groups were then subdivided into those with a body mass index below or above the 85th percentile. (For children, a BMI above the 85th percentile is equivalent to an adult BMI of 25, which is generally considered overweight.) The children's height and weight were determined from their medical records, and parents completed a questionnaire about their kids' eating and leisure activities.

While all children consumed about the same amounts of fruits, vegetables and fruit juices, differences were seen in other categories. Preschool-age kids ate more servings of low-fat dairy foods than their overweight, school-age counterparts, and consumption of sweetened drinks (including soda and fruit punch) was significantly higher in older, overweight kids compared to younger, normal-weight children.

Older kids also ate considerably more salty and sweet snacks than younger kids, and younger children tended to eat with their families more often than older children. Weekly fast food consumption was higher among overweight kids, regardless of age.

About half of all parents said their children played or exercised five days a week to the point of breathing hard and sweating. Parents were also asked if their child were just as, or a little more active, compared with their peers; almost all parents of non-overweight preschool-age kids said "yes," while only 63% of parents of overweight school-age children agreed with the statement.

In the study, which appears in the January/February issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers wrote, "...interventions designed to help children meet dietary and leisure-time activity recommendations should begin by assisting parents with preschool-aged children develop skills to provide the structure and the environment necessary for their young children to develop a healthful lifestyle."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times