01/20/2014 11:15 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

The 3 Biggest Risk Factors In Childhood Obesity Are Also Changeable, Study Finds

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The three most significant risk factors for obesity among preschoolers are also all modifiable, according to a new study.

The three factors include: having a mom or dad with a body mass index indicative of being overweight or obese, not getting enough sleep, and having eating restricted by parents for the purposes of weight control.

"What's exciting here is that these risk factors are malleable and provide a road map for developing interventions that can lead to a possible reduction in children's weight status," study researcher Brent McBride, a professor of human development and director of the Child Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois, said in a statement. "We should focus on convincing parents to improve their own health status, to change the food environment of the home so that healthy foods are readily available and unhealthy foods are not, and to encourage an early bedtime."

The study, published last year in the journal Childhood Obesity, is based on survey results and home visits for 329 parent-child pairs who were part of the STRONG (Synergistic Theory and Research on Obesity and Nutrition Group) Kids Program.

Researchers examined 22 different variables that could all contribute to childhood obesity, and found that the three previously mentioned factors were the most significant -- predicting childhood obesity even when the other 19 factors were accounted for.

Specifically, sleeping for eight hours or less each night was associated with a 2.2-times higher risk of overweight or obesity in the children, while having an obese parent was associated with a 1.9-times higher risk of overweight or obesity in the children. Children whose parents restricted their food intake for weight purposes had a 1.75-times higher risk of being overweight or obese.

In that same vein, another new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that dietary patterns fostered at home play more of a role in childhood obesity than fast food consumption.

"Children who rely on fast foods may tend to have parents who do not have the means, desire or time to purchase or prepare healthy foods at home," the author of that study, Barry Popkin, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a statement. "This is really what is driving children's obesity and what needs to be addressed in any solution."