How to fight childhood obesity: UNC faculty add expertise

With 20 percent of 2-to-5 year old children overweight or obese, what’s the formula for combating childhood obesity outside the home?

A new set of recommendations aims to curb the high rates of obesity among America’s youngest children by changing the way they eat and play when in daycare or other child care programs. The report, issued by an Institute of Medicine committee that included a UNC-Chapel Hill researcher and drew on the expertise of several Carolina faculty, focuses on policy changes for child care institutions and other groups that care for children. The guidelines include limiting television and other media, encouraging infants and young children to spend more time in physically active play, and requiring child care providers to promote healthy sleeping practices.

Alice Ammerman, Dr.P.H., professor of nutrition at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, served as an expert in nutrition and food marketing on the committee.

“We used to think that chubby babies would ‘grow out’ of their baby fat, but increasing scientific evidence suggests that we need to be concerned about extra weight in very young children, because a chubby baby often becomes an overweight adult,” Ammerman said.

The report outlines how children’s activities and behaviors can be better shaped by child care centers, preschools, pediatricians’ offices, federal nutrition programs and other facilities and programs. Although the recommendations are directed toward policymakers and health-care and child care providers, the report noted that professionals can counsel and support parents in promoting healthy habits in the home, too.

About 10 percent of children under 2 years old and slightly more than 20 percent of children aged 2 through 5 are overweight or obese. Rates of excess weight and obesity among children aged 2 to 5 have doubled since the 1980s.

Read more about the committee’s recommendations.