Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Children's Health

Font Size
A
A
A

How to Fight Trend of Preschool Obesity

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

Toddler peeking out from playhouse window

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.

Keeping TVs out of bedrooms, creating environments that promote naps and nighttime sleep, and establishing sleep routines are all important to promoting healthy sleep habits, IOM committee member Debra Haire-Joshu, PhD, MPH, of Washington University in St. Louis tells WebMD.

The report stressed the importance of giving young children plenty of opportunity to be active during the day.

"We know that children in many day care settings are not getting enough physical activity during the day," Birch says.

She says several states now require day care centers to provide the opportunity for at least two hours of physical activity during an eight-hour day.

"Children tend to be active in short bursts, so if they have the opportunity for activity throughout the day they are likely to expend more energy," she adds.

Today on WebMD

preschool age girl sitting at desk
Article
look at my hand
Slideshow
 
woman with cleaning products
Slideshow
young boy with fever
Article
 

worried kid
fitArticle
boy on father's shoulder
Article
 
Child with red rash on cheeks
Slideshow
girl thinking
Article
 

babyapp
New
Child with adhd
Slideshow
 
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
Syringes and graph illustration
Tool
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Build a Fitter Family Challenge – Get your crew motivated to move.
Feed Your Family Better Challenge - Tips and tricks to healthy up your diet.
Sleep Better Challenge - Snooze clues for the whole family.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply

WebMD Special Sections