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Kids' Healthy Weight

Obesity Prevention in Early Care and Education Settings - Opportunities in Northeast Ohio

The earliest years represent a crucial opportunity to promote healthy weight among children. Early learning and care is an especially important setting for obesity prevention.

Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in the United States, where one in three children is either obese or overweight. Excess weight in childhood is of particular concern because overweight children are more likely to be overweight as adults, do not perform as well in school, and have more physical and mental health problems than children at healthy weights. Experts believe that children today will not live as long as their parents due to obesity. The increase in obesity is contributing to the rise in chronic conditions such as heart disease, type II diabetes, asthma, osteoarthritis and certain cancers.(1) Excess weight is becoming more common at young ages. Over 20% of children ages 2-5 are overweight and about half of these children are obese. Over their next five years, the proportion of children that are overweight or obese roughly doubles(6) (see Figure 1). Therefore, the earliest years represent a crucial opportunity to promote healthy weight among children.

Ohio is tied with Kansas for the 12th fattest state in the nation. Children in Ohio ages 2 to 5 years are more likely to be overweight or obese compared to children nationwide (28.2% versus 17.4%). As is the case nationally, Ohio’s obesity rates are higher among children who are Black or Hispanic, and among those living in low income families(7) (see Figure 2). Therefore, particular attention should be focused on the needs of low income and minority populations.

Nearly three-quarters of all U.S. children ages 3 to 6 years are in some form of non-parental care. Of those children, 57 percent are enrolled in a center-based childcare program. Children consume a significant portion of their daily calories, and spend many of their waking hours in childcare. Therefore, early learning and care facilities are an important setting for obesity-prevention interventions.

There are currently 61,058 childcare centers in Ohio. Over 80,000 children younger than age 2, and 207,000 children ages 3-5 are cared for in facilities licensed by the Ohio Department of Education or Department of Job and Family Services.(8) This represents about one in five children under two years of age and nearly half of children ages 3-5. Nearly half of these children benefit from financial assistance for these services.

This white paper looks at opportunities to address this vital issue in Cuyahoga County Ohio.

Obesity Prevention in Early Care and Education Settings

Prepared by the Urban Health Initiative at Case Western Reserve University, with support of the Mt Sinai Health Care Foundation.

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Last Reviewed: Jun 23, 2013

Amy R Sheon, PhD, MPH Amy R Sheon, PhD, MPH
Adjunct Associate Professor
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University