Parents are vital in preventing early childhood obesity

Research indicates that obesity in young children continues to be a health concern in the U.S.

Obesity in young children is a problem in the United States.  According to the Center for Childhood Obesity Research (CCOR) and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, recent reports indicate that 10 percent of infants and toddlers carry excess weight for their length and 20-25 percent of children between the ages of two and five are already overweight or obese. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that obese children are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes which are associated with cardiovascular disease.  Obese children are also more likely to be obese as adults.

Child care centers, preschools, health care providers and federal nutrition programs promote programs that encourage physical exercise and healthy eating, but it is vital that parents are informed and supported so they can promote these healthy habits for their children at home.  The committee for Childhood Obesity Research at Penn State University provides the following recommendations:

Work with health care providers to identify risk factors.  Measuring weight, length and body mass index (BMI) is a standard procedure that should occur at every child’s doctor visit.  Pediatricians can provide help and resources to parents who have a child that is at risk for obesit.

Promote healthy sleep.  There is research that correlates insufficient sleep with obesity.  Pediatricians, child care providers and other early childhood professionals can help educate and train parents on age-appropriate sleep times and good sleep habits.

Encourage physical activity.  It is important that infants, toddlers and preschoolers are provided with opportunities and environments that promote physically active play throughout the day.  Parents can help promote activities that increase their children’s physical play time and limit their screen time (television, computers, etc.) to less than two hours per day.

Encourage healthy eating.  Breastfeeding provides many health benefits to both mothers and babies.  Health care providers and organizations can provide help and support to new mothers who choose to initiate and continue breastfeeding their children.

Nutrition programs through Michigan State University Extension can educate and inform parents about the importance of limiting sugar, salt and fat, increasing healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains and provide guidance on appropriate portion sizes for children of different ages. 

For more information about childhood obesity, visit the following websites:

http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2008/080421.htm

http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/Early-Childhood-Obesity-Prevention-Policies.aspx

http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/downloads/PedNSSFactSheet.pdf