Canadian researchers find correlation between childcare and obesity

With the snack company Hostess recently making headlines and Thanksgiving just days away, many people are taking the opportunity to focus on the problem of obesity; childhood obesity in particular.

A timely study was published recently in the Journal of Pediatrics that linked child care by an extended family member or daycare with a 50 percent increased risk for childhood obesity.

“We found that children whose primary care arrangement between 1.5 and 4 years [of age] was in daycare-center or with an extended family member were around 50 percent more likely to be overweight or obese between the ages of 4-10 years compared to those cared for at home by their parents,” said lead author Marie-Claude Geoffroy, a researcher affiliated with the University of Montreal at the time of the study.

“This difference cannot be explained by known risk factors such as socioeconomic status of the parents, breastfeeding, body mass index of the mother, or employment status of the mother,” she added.

The study included over 1,600 Québec families with children born between 1997 and 1998. Mothers were interviewed about the type of care for their children at 1.5 years, 2.5 years, 3.5 years, and 4 years. The children categorized by the type of care which they had received the most, including daycare center (30 percent), family daycare (35 percent),  parents (19 percent). extended family member (11 percent), or with a nanny (5 percent).

Over the six-year course of the study, the researchers determined the children’s body mass index by recording their weight and height. The researchers then classified children with excessive weight or obesity based on international standards (IOTF).

Although the scientists were able to make a strong correlation between the type of care and the risk for obesity, they were unable to uncover a mechanism responsible for this phenomenon.

“Diet and physical activity are avenues to follow,” said co-author Sylvana Côté. “Parents don’t have to worry; however, I suggest to parents they ensure their children eat well and get enough physical activity, whether at home or at daycare.”

The scientists noted that sending young children to daycare doesn’t necessarily condemn them to becoming overweight and could be an opportunity to establish healthy habits.

“The enormous potential of the impact of daycare on the nutritional health of children 2-5 years of age was also noted by the Extenso unit of the University of Montreal Nutrition Reference Centre, which has developed a web portal specifically devoted to children in daycare,” said Jean Séguin, who also co-authored the study.

Last week, prominent member of Congress Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, spoke out against the childhood obesity epidemic and proposed a bill that would aim at reducing the visibility of junk food that is targeted at this segment of the population.

“Everyone here knows the problem we have with childhood obesity in America,” he said standing on the House floor. “Childhood obesity is at an epidemic level. We all know young people who have consumed various types of food that has left them in a condition that is unhealthy. And yet did you know that we are actually giving tax deductions out to big companies that go ahead and advertise and market products that contribute to childhood obesity?”

“So what I’m doing is introducing a bill right now that would protect children’s health by denying any deduction for advertising and marketing that’s directed at children to promote the consumption of food at fast-food restaurants or of any kind of food that’s of poor nutritional quality,” he said.

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