Children who attend daycare or are looked after by extended family are more likely to be overweight than preschoolers who stay home with their parents.
That’s according to a new study by researchers at the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center, which was recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
While examining the link between childhood obesity and preschool childcare arrangements, researchers analyzed data from a provincial long-term and ongoing study that is tracking childhood development in Quebec. They studied 1,649 families with children born between October 1997 and July 1998.
As part of that study, mothers were regularly interviewed about their children’s preschool care. About 30 per cent attended daycare, 35 per cent were in a home daycare environment, 11 per cent were cared for by extended family members, 5 per cent with a nanny and 19 per cent stayed home with their parents.
Researchers then tracked the weight of the children until age 10. The differences were startling and could not be explained by various known risk factors such as birth weight, breastfeeding duration, the family’s socioeconomic status, maternal depression or the mother’s weight or employment status.
Their research found that children who attended daycare were 65 per cent more likely to be overweight between ages 4 and 10 year, compared with those who stayed home with a parent. And those cared for by an extended family member were 50 per cent more likely to be overweight.
There was no association between family-based childcare or care by a nanny, and the children being overweight over the 6-year period of follow-up, according to the study.
“I was surprised (by the findings),” said lead author of the study Marie-Claude Geoffroy, who was a researcher with the university at the time of the study, but is now a post-doctoral fellow the Institute of Child Health at University College London.
She was stunned by the negative association between daycare centres and being overweight, particularly since a previous study of hers looked at the benefits of daycare on the cognitive development of children.
But why are children who attend daycare at greater risk of being chubby?
“We are asking the same question ourselves,” said Geoffroy, adding the data they accessed did not include information on physical activity and nutrition.
A follow-up study on exercise levels and the nutritional quality of foods in childcare centres may offer some insight.
“I understand parents may be worried but they don’t have to be,” said Geoffroy, adding more studies are needed.
For now, she said greater emphasis should be placed on physical activity and nutrition, particularly in daycare centres.
“Early childhood is a key life stage for the establishment of healthy habits that can persist over life.”
In Ontario, licensed daycares are regulated by the Ministry of Education. Among other things, child care programs must provide meals for all children older than 1, and nutritious between-meal snacks, with menus planned in advance and available to parents. Also, staff must post a daily program of activities that should include outdoor play and promote healthy growth and development.
Professor Carl Corter of the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings, saying there’s a wide range in the quality of childcare.
“Lots of families need to use child care and they should look into what makes high-quality childcare,” said Corter. “(Parents should) look inside the programs to see if children are happily engaged in active play.”
Source: MetroNews Canada - http://goo.gl/PJsVb