View Posts By:

Why Obesity Matters

Toddler eating an apple.By Katherine Beckman, Senior Policy Analyst, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Interdepartmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development

During 2008–2011, 19 states and territories reported decreases in obesity prevalence among low-income preschoolers. While this trend is promising, there is more that can be done to prevent childhood obesity and support healthy child development. Head Start and child care communities are essential allies in this national effort.

Why is obesity important?
Obesity puts children and adults at increased risk for many diseases and health problems such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes; sleep apnea and respiratory problems; high blood pressure and cholesterol; and liver and gallbladder disease.

What does obesity have to do with school readiness and learning?
Children who are overweight or obese can be undernourished at the same time.  Foods and beverages that are high in fat and sugar often lack important nutrients.  Many of these nutrients are important for brain development and cognitive functioning. 

In addition, physical activity promotes brain development, improves sleep, builds self confidence, and reduces stress and depression.  Children who are not active have more behavioral and disciplinary problems, shorter attention spans in class and do worse in school compared to active children.

Finally, television, computer, or mobile phone screen time can interfere with exploration, creative play, and interaction with others, which promotes social development. 

September is National Childhood Obesity Month!


What can I do as an early care and education provider?
Through activities that promote healthy nutrition and active living, Head Start and child care programs can make a huge impact on the healthy development of children and families.  Dedicated to providing resources to the early care and education community, Let’s Move! Child Care was launched by First Lady Michelle Obama in June 2011. Let’s Move! Child Care works to address healthy weight policies and practices for children by focusing on the following goals:

  1. Physical Activity: Provide 1-2 hours of physical activity throughout the day, including outside play when possible.  The Head Start Body Start (HSBS) National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play is an important resource to promoting physical activity, outdoor play, nature-based learning and development, and healthy lifestyles for young children and their families.  I Am Moving, I Am Learning (IMIL) is another resource that Head Start and child care providers can use to increase daily moderate to vigorous physical activity, improve the quality of child movement activities intentionally planned and facilitated by adults, and promote healthy food choices every day.  Play time can be active time!
  2. Screen Time: No screen time for children younger than 2 years. For children age 2 and older, strive to limit screen time to no more than 30 minutes per week while in care settings, and work with parents and caregivers to ensure children have no more than 1-2 hours of quality screen time per day (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics).  Helping children and families to grow up healthy doesn’t have to mean big changes.  For example, families can create a realistic plan using a Growing Healthy Family Goals Worksheet.
  3. Food: Serve fruits or vegetables at every meal, eat meals family-style whenever possible, and don't serve fried foods.  The Head Start National Center on Health provides many resources for supporting healthy nutrition for children, families, and staff in early care and education settings. Healthy eating habits start early!
  4. Beverages: Provide access to water during meals and throughout the day, and don't serve sugary drinks. For children age 2 and older, serve low-fat (1 percent) or non-fat milk, and no more than one 4- to 6-ounce serving of 100 percent juice per day.
  5. Infant Feeding: For mothers who want to continue breastfeeding, provide their milk to their infants and welcome them to breastfeed during the child care day. Support all new parents' decisions about infant feeding.  Take a look at the Head Start Guide to Online Breastfeeding Resources to learn more.

The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Interdepartmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development (ECD) promotes a joint approach to improving the availability of high quality early learning and development programs. We are made up of the Office of Head Start, the Office of Child Care, and the Interagency Team.

Back to Top