A new childhood obesity study says almost 1 in 5 American 4 year olds is obese. In 2008, 14.6 percent of low-income children from ages 2 to 4 were obese. Obesity at such young ages has been linked to less physical activity, thus perpetuating unhealthy weight and inactivity status into adulthood. While obesity levels have been rising, the number of children enrolled in preschool has also been steadily increasing. Preschools are a perfect place for early obesity prevention.
Obesity is the result of caloric imbalance (too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed) and is mediated by genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors. Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term health impacts.
Obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults.
“CHAMPS studied preschool children enrolled in 24 preschools in an urban area of South Carolina, with the aim of learning how much and in what context preschoolers were engaging in physical activity. Preschools in the study were child care centers, faith-based preschools, and Head Start programs; and children were all between 3 and 5 years old. Of the more than 450 children participating in the study, roughly half were males and half were African Americans.
Children were observed during the preschool hours, both indoors and outdoors, and their levels of physical activity were recorded by trained observers. Physical activity levels were: motionless, stationary with limb or trunk movement, light activity, moderate activity, and vigorous activity.
The researchers found that children engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during only 3.4 percent of the preschool day. They also found that 4 and 5 year olds were less physically active than 3 year olds, and males were more active than females. In addition, the study found that children in higher quality preschools were more likely to engage in physical activity than children in programs of lower quality.
While spending more time indoors, children were more likely to engage in physical activity when outdoors. The five most common outdoor activities involved open space, fixed equipment, ball and object use, socio-dramatic props, and wheel toys. The first three conditions are associated with high levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). The other two are also associated with MVPA at lower levels.
While indoors, the five most common scenarios were nap time, large group, indoor transition, snack, and manipulatives. All of these conditions are largely sedentary in nature and resulted in very little physical activity. However, teacher-arranged physical activity and music exercises, while observed rarely, were related to very high levels of physical activity. Therefore, the researchers call for more teacher involvement in promoting preschoolers’ physical activity.
While conventional wisdom holds that preschoolers expend lots of energy, this study found this is not always so. In view of the high levels of sedentary activity observed, the researchers call for careful attention in designing outdoor spaces for preschoolers. Designs should include sufficient open spaces and specific outdoor play materials associated with increased levels of physical activity.”
The CHAMPS report is in Child Development, 80(1), pp. 45-58. Above blog is from NIEER.
Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases. Experts stress that effective change requires both educational and environmental modifications. You can make healthy changes at your preschool. Often it takes the leadership of just one person and a willingness to talk to others to make a difference!
A poor diet and lack of physical activity affects the child'e energy levels and ability to concentrate. Emerging research is making a case for increased physical activity, in addition to eating breakfast and healthy foods, as a means for improving concentration performance. Teachers can serve as positive role models for their students by improving their own eating and physical activity habits. Practicing new behaviors together during the school day can be fun for everyone — children and teachers alike! Teachers can also help their students by:
Be sure to check out our nutrition classes by various authors and our preschool fitness classes written by Michele Silence of Kid-Fit.
Exercise is much more fun when done with a friend. Activity cards provide a sneaky way to get children up and moving. Each set of cards displays different exercise activities and the number of times that activity should be done. A fitness journal can record their activities.