Institute of Medicine Weighs in on Early Childhood Obesity Prevention

by Diane Dooley MD

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has had a long history of guiding national health policy in critically important health issues.  In 2010, they brought together experts in early childhood obesity to propose policies to prevent early childhood obesity.  As their report, Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policies states,  “efforts to prevent childhood obesity must begin before children ever enter the school system.”

Using the best evidence available, they conclude that significant efforts should be made to assess risks for obesity in young children, increase physical activity, promote healthy eating and reducing marketing and screen time for young children.

In 2007, when Healthy and Active Before 5 was conceived, local experts used evidence available at that time to develop the Healthy and Active Before 5 Action Plan.  The recent Institute of Medicine report supports the validity of our action plan, however additional evidence gives us a few more thoughts to consider in future initiatives:

–       Childcare environments are critically important. The IOM report repeatedly emphasizes the importance of promoting healthy environments in child care settings, from the promotion of active play to adopting healthy eating practices to limiting sedentary activities.  Using the best evidence available, the committee concludes mandatory regulation through State and local laws and regulations as a necessary next step to protecting children in childcare. (Physical Activity pages 59-84, Healthy Eating pages 85-118)

–       Reduce the use of seats and strollers. Their recommendations support efforts to “decrease sedentary behavior in young children”.  They cite recent evidence that shows the harmful effects of prolonged use of strollers, car seats and restricted environments on both the healthy weight of a child, as well as the development of motor milestones. (Reduce Sedentary Behavior pages 70 – 73)

–       Pay attention to healthy sleep habits. The Committee draws our attention to the evolving evidence on the importance of getting at least 12 hours of sleep daily for children less than 2 years to prevent early childhood obesity. Although we don’t understand all of the evidence, they emphasize that restful sleep environments and sleep-promoting practices such as regular nap times should be considered healthy habits for all. (Sleep pages 135-148)

The executive committee for HAB45 will review this information, along with ongoing data about obesity rates at our upcoming planning retreat.  For more information on this report, you can read it on line at: http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/Early-Childhood-Obesity-Prevention-Policies.aspx

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