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TUESDAY, Oct. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking soda, watching TV and playing video/computer games increased the risk that students would gain weight or remain overweight, while eating more meals each day and playing school sports reduced the risk, according to new research.
The 18-month study looked at the impact of the Healthy, Energetic, Ready, Outstanding, Enthusiastic Schools (HEROES) program implemented by schools in southern Indiana, northwestern Kentucky and southeastern Illinois.
The program is meant to improve students' health through changes in physical education, nutrition, health promotion efforts for school staff and students' families, and community involvement.
The study included more than 5,300 students at 11 schools. The findings confirm the connection between higher levels of soda consumption and childhood obesity, and support the recent New York City ban on sales of supersized sodas and other sweetened beverages, said study author Dong-Chul Seo, an associate professor in the School of Public Health at Indiana University.
The finding about the association between the number of meals students eat daily and their weight has not been widely studied, the researchers say.
"Thus, encouraging students to maintain a regular meal pattern with at least three meals a day appears to be a good strategy to help students achieve healthy weight," Seo said in a university news release.
The study is scheduled to be presented Tuesday at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in San Francisco.
The Welborn Baptist Foundation, located in Evansville, Ind., funded the program. The goal is to turn around the high rates of childhood obesity in the 14 counties they serve, Seo said.
The study also found a school's socioeconomic states had an impact on students' weight. Those at poorer schools were more likely to be overweight or to gain weight. This could be because richer schools offer more nutritious foods and physical activity, or it could be due to peer influence, Seo suggested.
By focusing on the modifiable risk factors identified in this study, schools and families may be able to help children achieve and maintain a healthy weight, he said.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines how parents can help their children maintain a healthy weight.