Understanding Childhood ObesityChildhood obesity is a serious health concern and one that affects roughly 1 in 4 Canadian children. Some experts blame the fast food industry; others blame sugary beverages and the widespread availability of high-calorie, low-cost convenience foods. Still others blame parents themselves. The fact is, childhood obesity is a complex issue and the reasons for it can vary from child to child, family to family, and even community to community. There are no easy answers, but there are many ways you and the parents you serve can children develop habits that will help keep them healthier throughout their lives. Here are some tips and resources to get you started:
Educate yourself first
Research into the causes of and solutions to childhood obesity spans a very broad range of issues�from predatory marketing practices by large corporations, to socio-economic factors, to psychology and beyond. If you�re reading up on the issue of childhood obesity, be sure to consider information from a wide variety of sources and encourage parents to do the same. Recognize that your own theories and biases about body weight may not be correct in every case, and in fact, may prevent you from truly understanding what kinds of supports will help a specific child or family. 

A great place to start developing a more holistic view of children�s weight issues is: The focus of this web site is the seven-point program designed by social worker and registered nutritional consulting practitioner Brenda Wollenberg. The word BALANCE is an acronym for her seven key points: Body type; Attitude; Laugher and play; Activity; Night�s sleep; Clean water and Eating for health.  
You might also wish to take the free, online course offered at This outstanding professional development resource for childcare owner/operators, ECEs, child care cooks and others working in licensed centres provides credible, up-to-date advice on preschool health. The program content was developed by Registered Dietitians and is consistent with recommendations from Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society. The  program was reviewed by the College of Early Childhood Educators and the curriculum follows Canada�s Food Guide and the Day Nurseries Act. Some of the topics covered include:
� Supporting picky eaters
� Cooking with children
� Key nutrients for preschoolers
� Building healthy bodies
� Planning and evaluating menus
� Special diets and food allergies
� Food safety
� Snack routine ideas
� Activities and games
� Communicating with parents
� And more!
Lessons are available at your convenience, and feature audio, PowerPoint-style slides, video clips, interactive activities and quizzes. Successfully complete the program and you�ll even earn a special Good Beginnings certificate.
Take practical steps in your own centre
You can�t control what happens when a child is at home, but you can set a positive example in your own centre. This can take the form of staff role-modeling and having an overall strategy for healthy lifestyle education for the children, teaching children relaxation techniques, making changes to the your centre�s everyday routine to promote greater physical activity, coordinating seminars for parents or even special family meal events where you include the recipes for the healthful, low-cost menu items you serve. Start anywhere. Even small changes count.
The Childhood Obesity Foundation ( suggests that preschools and daycares follow the "5-2-1-0 rule.� The rule refers to the following:
�        5 or more fruit and vegetable servings each day
�        2 hours or less of screen time per day
�        1 or more hours of physical activity per day
�        0 sugar-sweetened beverages served

Don�t overlook the stress connection
Several researchers have connected high levels of stress with obesity in children and teens. In 2009, Felix- Sebastian Koch, author of  Swedish university study involving 17,000 children went so far as to conclude that children in families with high levels of stress run up to three times the risk of being obese than those in families with lower stress levels.

While some researchers point to the use of food as a way self-soothing in times of stress ("comfort eating�), there is also evidence that high levels of stress result in the secretion of cortisol, a hormone that changes the way the human body processes food and stores fat. This can result in an individual who is under ongoing stress putting on weight, even when there have been no significant changes in his or her diet or activity level. 
Michigan-based educational consultant and writer Sandy Fleming notes that common stressors in children can include things like divorce, a family move, the loss of a pet, an illness or injury of a family member, reprimand, arguing adults or siblings, and overhearing and/or misunderstanding adult comments. She also notes that the signs of childhood stress often go unnoticed by the adults in their lives. These signs can include things like whining, social isolation, behavior problems, or complaints of headache, stomach ache, fatigue or sleeplessness. Fleming suggests that even young children can learn greater awareness of the signs of physical tension, and learn to relax their bodies in response to it. More information about her "wooden soldiers� exercise and other techniques is available at: The Psychology Foundation of Canada publishes an excellent resource to help parents reduce children�s stress levels, called Kids Have Stress Too! Ideas, Tips and Strategies for Parents of Preschoolers. This 13-page booklet is available as a free download at: Use and recommend the free resources that are available
There are many free resources available to help both educators and families develop more healthful eating habits and increase their activity levels. Here are just a few:  
British Columbia�s LEAP (Literacy Education Activity & Play) Program was developed by the non-profit organization 2010 Legacies Now as part of the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic Games. Designed for families, caregivers and early learning practitioners who engage with young children, it includes professionally researched and developed activity and resource manuals for early learning practitioners and families, nutrition training programs, and activity cards. Two of the program�s four modules deal specifically with activity and movement for very young children, and one deals extensively with nutrition. The entire collection, including all resources is available in downloadable PDF format free of charge. To learn more, visit: EatRight Ontario is another excellent source of information for parents or educators. Its services are free to all residents of Ontario and allow you to connect by email or phone with Registered Dietitians. Registered Dietitians provide web site visitors and those who email or call with feature articles on food and nutrition, meal planning advice, and recipes. They can even offer information on healthy weights and dietary tips that may be helpful for families coping with certain health conditions such as diabetes or autism. To learn more, visit:, or call 1-877-510-510-2. Food For Tots also offers parents and educators an excellent online resource featuring easy, child-friendly recipes and a wealth of articles and information about childhood nutrition and well-being. Be sure to visit: You may also wish to visit Pacific Medical Training's primer on obesity, which includes a special section on childhood weight issues.

Recommended By Our Users...Leah, a youth group volunteer at Compton Community Centre in Compton, California has been doing research for a presentation on childhood obesity. Leah recommends the following link for further learning about childhood obesity. We do, too. Thank you to Leah for sharing this excellent resource:





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