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Children's Health

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How to Fight Trend of Preschool Obesity

Institute of Medicine Calls for New Policies to Promote Exercise and Healthier Eating
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 23, 2011 -- A growing number of preschool-age children in the U.S. are overweight or obese and greater efforts are needed to address the problem, the health policy group Institute of Medicine (IOM) says.

In a new report, an IOM committee outlined policies designed to reduce obesity by promoting healthy eating, exercise, and sleep habits among infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

But instead of focusing solely on what parents can do, the report highlighted ways federal and state regulators, doctors, and child-care workers can help prevent obesity in very young children.

One in 10 infants and toddlers in the U.S. and one in five children between the ages of 2 and 5 are overweight.

"Contrary to the notion that chubby babies are healthy babies and that young children grow out of their baby fat, it is looking like children who are overweight early may be more likely to be overweight and obese later on," committee chair Leann L. Birch, PhD, tells WebMD.

Limit TV Time

Birch, who directs the Pennsylvania State University Center for Childhood Obesity Research, says addressing the problem in very young children is critical because obesity-related conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure are occurring with greater frequency among older children, teens, and young adults.

The IOM report included these recommendations for state and federal regulators:

  • Requiring day care centers and preschools to provide the opportunity for at least 15 minutes of physical activity per hour to toddlers and older children, while allowing infants to move freely at times with appropriate supervision.
  • Limit TV and other screen time to no more than 30 minutes for half-day day care programs and one hour for full-day programs.
  • Day care centers and other child-care providers should be required to promote healthy sleep times during the day.

Kids Need More Sleep, Exercise

Birch says just like their parents, very young children appear to be sleeping less overall these days. Studies show that insufficient sleep time is a risk factor for obesity.

It is recommended that children age 2 and under get 12 hours or more of sleep each day and children between the ages of 2 and 5 get at least 11 hours of sleep.

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