In one study unconnected with the STRONG Kids Project, researchers in Australia set out to study how sleep might affect weight. They found that, contrary to their expectations, it was not the amount of sleep that mattered, it was timing, says Carol Maher, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of South Australia and lead researcher on the study. Children who went to bed early and got up early were far healthier than those who went to bed late and got up late, even though the two groups got the same amount of sleep.
How often kids eat with their families also might impact childhood obesity rates—one group found that every meal not eaten with the family each week predicted an 8 percent increase in the likelihood that a child would be overweight. And health benefits of home-cooked meals might not be the only reason for this correlation, Harrison says. The simple act of a reliable family meal could also be adding psychological stability. Kids who feel like they have a support system and can manage their emotions tend to be healthier overall. Family mealtimes often provide parents a place to spot behavioral warning signs for depression or other unhealthy stressors.
Because the drivers of childhood obesity are complex, solutions will have to be so, too, she says. Instead of tackling one factor, “they’d be double-barreled and triple-barreled policies,” she says. For example, she said, policies that affect schools could address several of the causes of childhood obesity, such as access to vending machines, physical activity requirements, and even teaching students healthier habits. “If you attack a bunch of the influences at once,” Harrison says, “you’re going to get a much more powerful effect.”
Anything about human is complex!