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Study: Obesity Prevention Should Focus on Day Care

Lax Regulation Means Many Kids Don’t Get Enough Healthy Foods or Exercise

Promoting Healthy Eating

Other studies have looked at mealtime behaviors promoted by day care centers.

Head Start programs, for example, direct care providers to model healthy behaviors by sitting with children at meals and eating the same foods. Studies show that most centers in the program are following that advice.

But other studies that recorded conversations between day care attendants and kids found that few coached the children to heed feelings of hunger or fullness.

Adults made 10 times more comments about how much or how little food the child was eating, without asking whether kids felt like they had eaten enough.

“If we can encourage them to listen to their internal cues, we can prevent them from overeating,” says Benjamin Neelon. “We don’t interfere by saying, 'You have to have two more bites or you have to clean your plate,'” she says.

Physical Activity Lags

Many kids aren’t very active when they’re in day care, with kids rarely getting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous daily activity, the review shows. However, the children's physical activity levels were found to vary depending upon the child care facility attended.

In one of the reviewed studies, children were sedentary more than 80% of the time that they were being observed.

Studies suggest kids don’t get much exercise because staffers fail to encourage it, or they may even take physical activity away as punishment, as in the infamous "time out."

What Parents Can Do

Carefully choosing a child care center is key.

“You’ve given control of your child’s food to the child care center and therefore it’s really important that if you can, you select that center very carefully,” says Margaret Briley, PhD, RD, LD, a nutritional science professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Briley wrote a commentary on the new study but was not involved in the research.

Look at the setting. Centers that have outdoor play areas and few television or computer screens encourage more physical activity.

Larger child care centers are subject to more specific regulations for food and physical activity than home-based child care centers.

Ask how food is served. Meals dished up family-style, where kids can help themselves to bowls of food, teach kids how to take responsibility for what’s on their plate.

“It kind of gives them a better sense of what to eat, rather than giving them a big of pile of something they may not really want,” Ammerman tells WebMD.

Ask to see a menu. “When you look at a menu, you can look at a couple of things at a glance. Are children served the same thing every Tuesday-Thursday? That’s not a lot of variety,” Benjamin Neelon says. More variety means more nutrients.

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