handprint

Early Child Care

Daycare Is the New Frontier for Obesity Prevention

Early childhood is a critical time for obesity prevention. Children are developing taste preferences, learning to walk and play, and eagerly mimicking both healthy and unhealthy behaviors of their caregivers. Yet for many children, those caregivers may be someone other than their parents: In the U.S., for example, it’s estimated that 75 percent of children spend time in child care, for an average of 35 hours per week. (1)

Sadly, child obesity rates are rising worldwide, even among the youngest of children: Globally, an estimated 43 million preschool children were overweight or obese in 2010, a 60 percent increase since 1990. (2) And children’s early-life experiences, such as lack of breast feeding, too-little sleep, and too-much television can increase the risk of obesity later in life. That’s why early child care providers have such a crucial role to play in turning around the obesity epidemic.

In This Section

It’s never too early to start preventing obesity. Learn how early child care providers can give infants and toddlers nutritious foods, foster healthy mealtime habits, and promote active, screen-free play and adequate sleep—and encourage parents to do the same at home.

Child care providers are in a unique position to educate parents about healthy eating and activity habits, and also to provide a healthy environment for children to eat, play, and grow. They can serve children age-appropriate healthy foods, and limit junk food, sugary drinks, and juice. They can offer children lots of opportunities for active play, in fun, short bursts throughout the day. And they can keep televisions turned off and away from areas where children sleep. When parents also adopt these practices at home, children are assured the best chance of growing into a healthy weight.

Tools and Resources (tools_and_resrouces.jpg)

Related Articles (related-articles.jpg)

Child care providers are in a unique position to educate parents about healthy eating and activity habits, and also to provide a healthy environment for children to eat, play, and grow. They can serve children age-appropriate healthy foods, and limit junk food, sugary drinks, and juice. They can offer children lots of opportunities for active play, in fun, short bursts throughout the day. And they can keep televisions turned off and away from areas where children sleep. When parents also adopt these practices at home, children are assured the best chance of growing into a healthy weight.

This section of The Obesity Prevention Source summarizes obesity prevention recommendations for early child care providers, based on a review of expert guidance from the Institute of Medicine, the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and others. These nutrition, feeding-style, activity, screen time, and sleep recommendations are appropriate guidelines for parents to follow, as well. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list on each page, as well as the links to useful toolkits and other resources.

Early Child Care Nutrition

Child care providers can encourage healthy eating habits in young children by providing a variety of nutritious foods, limiting junk food and sugary drinks, and encouraging parents to do the same at home.
Read more…

Infant Feeding and Mealtime Habits


How infants and children are fed can be just as important as what they are fed. Child care providers can teach children to enjoy healthy foods and encourage them to regulate their own food intake.
Read more…

Healthy Activity, Screen Time, and Sleep in the Early Years


Young children should spend most of the day being active, not sitting or watching television. During nap times, children need peaceful and television-free places to sleep, both in the child care setting and at home.
Read more…

Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.