Researchers Encourage Parents To Keep Kids Active And Don’t Skip Meals

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert


As parents who now know the importance of healthy diets and exercise, we sometimes wish we would have started these good habits years ago when we were young. Teaching kids to adopt and enjoy this lifestyle can prevent bad behaviors from creeping in later in life. So, any opportunity to study children’s daily lives over those crucial years from 1st grade through high school usually provides interesting  and useful findings. 

The Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) longitudinal study in Kuopio, Finland not only has a eye-catching acronym but also has produced several practical warnings for parents. Two more studies were recently released, with the recommendations to keep kids moving and be sure they don’t skip meals.

Started in 2007 by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland, the PANIC study hopes to study the same collection of kids over 13 years from age 6 to 19, offering healthy interventions to some of the participating families during the first two years while also monitoring a control group during the same period. Baseline assessments of health and well-being were recorded for 512 kids from the city of Kuopio in 2007, with those in the intervention group receiving two years of specific exercise and diet programs while the control group did not.

Of the original group, 440 kids were still participating and were retested in 2009 and agreed to continue for another two years but with less intense interventions. Follow-up assessments will be repeated in 2015-17 and 2020-2022.

Just a few of the health topics included in the study are physical activity, diet and eating behaviors, cardio and neuromuscular fitness, metabolism, bone mineral density, cognition, reading and math skills, sleep, and health care costs.

In the latest study, researchers examined a sample of 160 kids from the PANIC population, ages 6-8, and showed that the kids that had lower levels of physical fitness and activity, along with higher body fat percentage, had higher arterial stiffness, which causes the heart to have to work harder to pump blood. This condition, known as arteriosclerosis, worsens over a lifetime of inactivity so to already show signs of it at such an early age puts the kids into a higher cardiovascular risk category.

Conversely, those kids that had plenty of exercise and controlled their weight and body fat showed flexible, healthy artery walls helping their heart to beat more efficiently.

This research has been published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.

Next, in a counterintuitive study, Aino-Maija Eloranta, PhD concluded that children who skip the primary meals of the day are actually more likely to have a higher body fat percentage and additional cardiometabolic risk, making them more susceptible to diabetes in the future.

By skipping one or more of breakfast, lunch or dinner, the kids opted for more snacks and protein. The higher intake of processed foods with added sugars replaced more healthy meals that contain fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Saturated fat, sucrose and salt trumped fiber, vitamin D and iron in the kids who skipped meals. They also tended to eat these snack meals faster and had more emotional overeating.

Dr. Eloranta looked at data from the PANIC program of 512 boys and girls between the ages of 6 to 8, consisting of what they ate, when they ate, their health data and also their metabolic risk score, which includes levels of blood pressure, insulin, glucose, triglycerides and cholesterol.

"The more of these factors are present, the higher the risk," said Dr. Eloranta. "Based on the findings, sticking to regular meals seems to be crucial for preventing overweight and cardiometabolic diseases already in childhood.”

This study has been published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

The bottom line from both studies is common sense advice for parents; try to get your kids to sit down for regular, healthy meals, cut down on nutrition-poor snacks and keep them active.

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: Oct 01 2015

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