Are Children of Busy Parents at Greater Risk of Childhood Obesity?

Are Children of Busy Parents at Greater Risk of Childhood Obesity?

Who is causing childhood obesity, child day-care centers or parents? Children that attend full-time daycare are more likely to be obese than children who are home cared. But a new study indicates it may be the parents fault for obesity in full-time day-care children.

Obesity among children attending daycare compared with home cared children suggests that excess calories consumed at daycare might lead to the problem. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that child-care centers should provide an appropriate diet to meet children’s one-half or two-thirds of their daily energy and nutrient requirement, leaving children with one-third to one-half of their nutritional needs to be fulfilled outside of daycare. This brings an interesting question; if children consume a little more than a half of their daily requirement at daycare, could this be the cause of these children’s excessive weight gain?

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio hypothesized that the extra calories might be coming from outside of child care settings. To answer this, 339 children from 30 full-time child-care centers in Hamilton County were enrolled in an observational study. Breakfast and/or morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack were provided to children by their daycare. Participants’ parents were assigned to record anything the child eats starting from leaving the daycare and ending at entering daycare the next day, twice a week for 15 months.

Kristen Copeland, MD, a researcher in the Division of General and Community Pediatrics and her team concluded that the children consumed more than recommended, on average 685 Cal of 433-650 Cal recommended, where 174 children (51%) consumed an average of 908 Cal, 366 Cal more than the midrange of the recommendation for this time-frame. For reference, daily energy requirements for these kids’ age are only 1,300 Cal. Only a 200 Cal increase per day increases the chance becoming overweight/obese by 20%. More than half the children consumed 30% greater than their daily requirements of energy.

This study also showed that the majority of the calories that children consumed at home were from sugar sweetened beverages and sweet-salty snack foods such as cookies, crackers, chocolate or candies, pretzels, chips and other junk foods. Only a few children consumed fruits (16.3%), vegetables (15.2%), and white milk (9%) while being under the parent-care, which brought the scientist to another hypothesis that income status might dictate the food selection for the kids while at home.

Contrary to the researchers’ secondary hypothesis, the income status is not responsible for the food selection according to the data from the study. There were no differences in fruit and vegetable intake at home between children of lower or higher income status. Although, consumption of high sugar sweetened beverages were found to be significantly higher in those from lower income families.

While it is recommended for kids of this age to consume 1-2 cups of vegetables, 1.5 cups of whole fruits, about 2 cups of milk and 2-5 oz of beans and/or meat daily, a child coming from a daycare needs only a half or even less(one-third) of these to fulfill their daily requirements. This amounts to about a baby’s size portion of normal food daily. This is as simple as giving a baby 4 baby carrots and a tablespoon of corn or green peas with a tablespoon of cheesy macaroni with less than 2 oz of crumbled chicken and about half a glass of milk for dinner and 4 sliced strawberries or a few slices of an apple with a teaspoon of peanut butter for a healthy snack.

Much time and money is spent in requiring schools and daycares to provide proper nutrition to our children, yet we fail to address the diet consumed at home under parental supervision. Busy parents seem to be more prone to allow children to manage their own diets which will always result in selecting high-sugar addictive foods and beverages. It should paramount to educate parents to get children to eat even small amounts of proper foods at home which can lead to greater satiety and weight management.


Robson SM, Khoury JC, Kalkwarf HJ, Copeland K. Dietary Intake of Children Attending Full-Time Child Care: What Are They Eating Away from the Child-Care Center? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015;115 (9):1472-1478.

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