Is daycare making your child overweight?

As if working parents didn't have enough to worry about, a new study conducted by the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Centre links daycare with obesity in children.

The study shows that if a child's primary care arrangement before age 4 was in a daycare setting or with an extended family member, they were 50 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than those children cared for at home with their parents. Don't let this news bring you down; your child can beat the odds.

When I was battling my emotions regarding putting my little one in daycare, my sister-in-law stepped up with words of advice. With three young girls in daycare, this successful businesswoman encouraged me to be the best possible example for my son. She said I was not to feel guilty for taking care of myself or their needs. Focus on your career when you are at work, and focus on the kids when you are at home, she said. She banked on the fact that her example was the most important in the lives of her little girls, and in her case at least, she was right. All three are not only fit and strong dancers, but went on to pursue careers in the health field.

In the long run, I ended up opening my own home daycare, combining work with caring for my children, but my sister-in-law's advice holds strong. Even at a very young age, children imitate parents and reflect their values. According to Dr. Jean Séguin, the co-director of this study, there is enormous potential to promote physical activity and healthy eating within the daycare setting. It will take both parents and childcare facilities working together to make an effective difference.

Without a doubt childhood obesity is a problem, and the answers are not easy, but they are simple.

Eat healthy: Whether you are a busy, working mom, a busy, stay-at-home mom, or any variation of those roles, providing healthy food needs to be a priority. Fruit is just as easy to give a child as a bag of fruit snacks or a cookie. Vegetables can play a starring role, or be added incognito to your child's daily meals. But most of all, your kids need to see you enjoying these healthy choices.

Dad's count, too: Another study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) made another interesting discovery. Australian researchers at the University of Newcastle found children were four times more likely to be obese by age eight or nine if they have an overweight father.

Move it, move it: Your preschooler probably knows "I like to move it" from "Madagascar," but do they see you moving it on a daily basis? It is not enough to take your child to the playground and tell her to run around and play. Make it a point to add physical activity into your family time, while reducing time around the tube. Turn music on and dance, take a walk, play ball in the backyard; whatever traditions you start will stick more than any lesson a daycare provider can provide.

Check out the daycare setting: If you are sending your child to a childcare facility, homecare provider, or have a nanny, ask questions about the meals served. My daughter worked in a state-funded daycare for several years and was appalled at what passed as fruit and vegetables; peaches canned in syrup and a scoop of mushy, canned peas for example. Even if your inquiry does not change anything and changing providers is not possible, being fully aware helps. Offer alternatives and supplement with nutritionally-,sound food when you are with your child.

Help change public policies: Earlier this month, Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich addressed the House in regards to the tax deductions given to big companies who market junk food directly to children. He is proposing a bill that aims to protect children's health by cutting these deductions. According to his website, Representative Kucinich says, "We are spending millions, if not billions of dollars every year on programs to fight the childhood obesity epidemic while giving almost $2 billion of taxpayer money to the junk food and fast food industries to make the epidemic worse."

Building a strong family identity that promotes health and fitness is the most effective deterrent to childhood obesity, but at the same time, parents need to look closely at both the daycare setting and the public policies surrounding their children. Making changes is not easy, but preventative care is generally more effective than fixing a problem once it is underway.

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