Childhood obesity is becoming a health problem for children and their parents throughout the world. Obesity that develops during early life can be problematic because the influence on health is longer and can lead to other problems such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The childhood obesity epidemic has paralleled the adult obesity epidemic. Despite this, the root causes of the two epidemics are likely different. The majority of children are cared for during the preschool years through some type of daycare arrangements with other family members or daycare centers. These arrangements could have a positive impact on childhood obesity if healthy food choices and portion moderation are taught. Contrary to this, it has been found that children who are cared for in daycare have increased risk of developing childhood obesity.
Research conducted at University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center and lead by Dr. Marie-Claude Geoffroy has found that children who are cared for in daycare arrangements have increased risk of developing obesity. The results of the study were published online in the Journal of Pediatrics. The researchers conducted a prospective study involving 1,649 children in the Quebec, Canada region. Information regarding childcare arrangements was collected from mothers at child ages of 1.5, 2.5, 3.5, and 4 years. Children were then assessed for body mass index (BMI) at the ages of 4, 6, 7, 8, and 10 years.
The researchers found that children who attended a childcare center or who were cared for by a non-parental family member were 65% and 50% more likely to become overweight or obese, respectively. Analysis of the data suggested that for every 5 hours in daycare the risk of being overweight or obese in the first decade of life increased by 9%. These results were not influence by several possible confounding variables including socioeconomic position, breastfeeding, maternal employment, maternal depression, and maternal body mass index.
The authors wrote, “Compared with parental care, children who attended a center-based childcare had higher odds of being overweight/obese in childhood (4-10 years old). Additionally, children being taken care of by relatives had higher odds of being overweight/obese…”
The authors also wrote, “Future studies are needed to investigate likely explanation for BMI differences in association with childcare, especially nutrition and physical activity, but several other factors may also be involved. Improved understanding of the mechanisms involved is particularly important as the vast majority of children now experience childcare during the preschool years”.
The findings of this study are concerning because there is a large percentage of children throughout the world that are cared for in some type of daycare arrangement. This study identified an association and the causative mechanism is not clear. Indeed, the factors that have lead to this finding may be numerous. More research is needed to identify the reasons for this finding and to determine if anything can be done to decrease the associated risk of obesity with childcare that is observed by these investigators.
Marie-Claude Geoffroy et al. “Childcare and Overweight or Obesity over 10 years of Follow Up” Journal of Pediatrics published online November 8, 2012 (doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2012.09.026).