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More research is needed to understand the developmental effects related to the regulation of food intake and energy balance. In addition, efforts must be undertaken to identify relevant environmental and social factors that affect eating and physical activity patterns in families. There are several key research questions that should be addressed to gather knowledge about the factors responsible for increases in obesity among young children.

With this knowledge, possible effective measures for childhood obesity prevention may better be formulated. More specifically, research must focus on the developmental factors involved in acquiring adverse eating and physical activity patterns and on possibilities for changing adverse environmental factors. We must ask:. More data are required to support the theory that early eating patterns may be important contributing factors to childhood obesity, and subsequent intervention studies must prove this theory. Such intervention studies should either teach families to avoid these products or call for regulating sales and advertising for these products.

Recent research results have been reviewed extensively elsewhere 1,2,4,12 and are summarized in the paragraphs below. Some data support the role of genetic factors. Thus, recent body weight gains among the population are the result of an interaction of genotypes with behavioural and environmental factors. Genetic factors increase the susceptibility to gain weight in a modern living environment. Studies also show that postnatal weight gain is important: A low birth weight followed by rapid catch up growth during early infancy seems to be a risk factor for the development of metabolic disturbances insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia and obesity.

It has also been shown that an early adiposity rebound results in a greater risk of subsequent obesity.

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Development of taste and hunger, satiety perception and eating behaviour. It has been known for some time that hormones extensively affect brain development. Recent evidence also suggests that perinatal and in utero nutrition may have long-term effects that continue into adulthood. Results obtained in animal studies suggest that there are critical periods in brain development early in life that may profoundly affect food intake and body weight. Recently it has been shown that leptin can modulate both synapse numbers and synaptic activity in the NPY and POMC neurons in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus.

These observations are consistent with the concept that under- and over-nutrition during critical periods of hypothalamic development may induce long-lasting and potentially irreversible effects into adulthood.

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Studies in humans the aforementioned studies having been performed on mice suggest that the first years of life are a sensitive period for the development of eating and physical activity behaviour. Young children have a physiological sense of satiety that guides them to eat only until they are satisfied.

It has been suggested that the food portion sizes consumed by children 1 to 2 years of age have been consistent over the past 20 years. It has shown that, early in life, infants are responsive to the energy density of food and are capable of controlling volume.

By age five, larger proportions can lead to increased overall food intake. It is also known that experience with flavours in breast milk from various foods promotes the acceptance of these foods when they are introduced into a solid diet later on. Infants prefer sweet and salty tastes.

Risk factors for the development of obesity in early childhood include psychosocial and familial factors. Body mass index BMI in children and adults varies significantly according to the socio-economic status of the family. Parental feeding attitudes and child—parent interaction may also be influenced by cultural and psycho-social backgrounds. Epidemiological data suggest that breastfeeding affords a small but significant degree of protection against childhood obesity.

ASN Partners to Bring Attention to Childhood Obesity

A recent review of 11 studies with adequate sample size all of which controlled for potential confounders found that eight of the studies showed that breastfed children were at a lower risk of being overweight. Halford et al. This finding suggests that reducing snack food advertisement will help to prevent detrimental eating behaviour. Moreover, Ebbeling et al.

Soft drinks are a leading source of carbohydrates for American children as young as two years of age. A prospective study has reported a positive association between the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and obesity. Such diets may program beta-cell functions, leading to increased insulin secretion, which could, in itself, fuel further weight gain. There are new data supporting the hypothesis that fructose consumption has metabolic and hormonal consequences that may facilitate the development of insulin resistance and obesity.

High-fructose corn syrup is also found in processed food ranging from candy bars, to crackers and ketchup sauces. Again, it seems that this ingredient fails in satisfying hunger, but generally succeeds in increasing the potential for overconsumption. Wels et al. Another study suggests that low levels of physical activity in preschool children are associated with higher levels of body fat. There is a positive association between the increased prevalence of obesity and the quantity of time spent watching television.

Role modelling of parents and caregivers Parents play an important role in determining the weight development of their children: Insufficient knowledge about healthy nutrition, unhealthy eating behaviours and increased physical inactivity parents as model are the main factors influencing eating and physical activity behaviours of the children. Research suggests that restricting palatable foods can lead to increased preferences for these foods.

Moreover, parental feeding styles may promote overeating in children. In a comprehensive literature review, most published studies reported at least one significant association between parental feeding styles and child outcome. Parental feeding restriction was associated with increased eating and weight status among children. It should be remembered that it is normal for a child to reject new, unknown food.

Five to 10 exposures to certain new food items may be needed before they are accepted. Repeated exposure is most critical during the first few years of life. Parents and caregivers are important role models and their food choices influence those made by their children. As children grow older, they make their own choices at school and their tastes tend to increasingly influence family decision-making in food choices. A recent family-based intervention has focused on reducing sedentary behaviours television viewing in particular with the goal of influencing eating and activity behaviour and achieving weight loss.

Early results from these studies are promising. Overweight and obesity in children are ever-increasing worldwide health problems. Since the treatment and long-term reduction of excess body weight often prove to be insurmountable challenges, prevention appears to be the optimal solution.

Several research studies support the use of preventive measures in early childhood. Certainly, parents and child-care providers should seek out knowledge about reasonable measures and should themselves be behavioural role models for healthy eating and physical activity. Obesity prevention i. Wabitsch M. Preventing Obesity in Young Children. Fisher JO, topic ed. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. Published February Accessed November 11, Skip to main content. Back to archived texts Preventing Obesity in Young Children.

Understanding Obesity Brochure - Obesity Action Coalition

PDF version. Introduction Obesity and its comorbities are a leading world-health concern for which few effective treatments exist. Subject The increase in the prevalence of obesity has been particularly striking since the late 70s in most industrialized countries. Problems Childhood obesity is associated with a wide range of disorders that affect multiple organ systems. Key Research Questions There are several key research questions that should be addressed to gather knowledge about the factors responsible for increases in obesity among young children. We must ask: Which developmental processes involved in regulating energy intake and expenditure are influenced by the living environment of young children?

Is it possible to alter these environmental factors and to prevent the development of adverse eating and physical activity patterns? For example, concern has been expressed that the early introduction of sweetened beverages and high-fat, sweet-tasting snacks may be important contributing factors to childhood obesity since an early preference for such foods and beverages may develop.

Recent Research Results Recent research results have been reviewed extensively elsewhere 1,2,4,12 and are summarized in the paragraphs below. Genetic and biological factors Some data support the role of genetic factors. Food products Halford et al. Physical activity Wels et al. Implications In accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 4 to 6 months of life. Television viewing time should be limited to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day. Children younger than two years should not watch television. Initial rejection of new food is normal.

Five to 10 exposures may be needed before certain new food items are accepted, and repeated experience is most critical during the first few years of life. Parents and caregivers should limit unhealthy snacks and beverages and avoid using food as a reward.