Should child care providers be tasked with childhood obesity too? 

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys found that over 21% of children ages 2 to 5 were considered overweight or even obese.  That has led some advocates to posit that child care settings can tackle teaching children about nutrition, since nearly 50% of children in the United States under age 5 go to some kind of child care.

An analysis from Washington State University called the ENHANCE project looked at 72 child care providers from 45 child care settings before and after a three-hour wellness retreat, and focused on feeding relationships, child nutrition education, and family communication. The forum provided tools and skills for providers to succeed in incorporating obesity prevention and healthful eating promotion within their child care setting. Based on observations and a survey before and one year after the wellness retreat, researchers found child care providers’ beliefs related to children’s healthful eating and feeding affected classroom practices. For example, if a child care provider felt confident in their ability to provide nutrition information, then they increased their nutrition education efforts and communicated more frequently with families about healthful eating and child feeding.

Dr. Jane D. Lanigan,
Assistant Professor in Human Development at Washington State University, says, “Teachers did feel empowered to shape children’s food preferences and employed a variety of evidence-based practices during feeding. However, they felt uncertain about managing children’s intake or addressing child weight issues with parents. The current study suggests that the child care feeding environment can be improved by helping providers understand the negative consequences associated with feeding practices such as pressuring a child to eat, restricting highly palatable food, and using rewards to encourage children to eat healthful food or increase consumption.”

Why is this important for childcare?

Lanigan says, “The potential for early learning professionals to contribute to the childhood obesity solution has yet to be fully realized. The ENHANCE project sought to position obesity prevention within the early learning philosophy of promoting the development of the ‘whole child’ and help child care providers connect child care feeding practices to children’s development of lasting beliefs about healthful eating.

“Incorporating child feeding training into state child care licensure, national certification, or as a requirement for participation in the Child&Adult Care Food Program are potential mechanisms for improving the child care feeding environment and addressing the childhood obesity epidemic.”

Citation: “The Relationship between Practices and Child Care Providers’ Beliefs Related to Child Feeding and Obesity Prevention,” by Jane D. Lanigan, PhD, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 44, Issue 6