Children Cared By Grandparents at Greater Risk of Being Overweight

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Child-care may have an effect on diet and physical activity of children even at a very early age. An analysis of 12,000 British three-year-olds has suggested that children who are cared for either full-time or part-time by grandparents have an increased risk of being overweight.

The study was conducted by the University College London using data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which looked at the health of children ages nine months to three years who had been born in the UK between 2000 and 2001. The children who were in their grandparents care full-time while parents worked had a 34% higher risk of being overweight than those who went to a day-care or had a nanny. Children who were looked after by grandparents part-time had a 15% higher risk.

Researchers did look at other factors, such as socio-economic background and found that the increased risk was only apparent in children from upper-income families, such as when the mother had a college degree, a managerial or professional position, or lived with their partner.

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One factor the study did not look at was genetic factors for the increased risk of obesity in the children. If the grandparents were overweight or obese themselves, the children may be predisposed to weight gain in addition to environmental factors.

The study authors make a point to say that they are not de-valuing the care that grandparents give, and recognize that it is one of the best alternatives to full-time parent care. They do, however, suggest that perhaps they need more information about diet and exercise for small children.

Most grandparents happily indulge children with more “treats” during the day and allow for more sedentary activity, such as television watching, than day care programs or hired nannies. Using food as a reward for good behavior is a common situation and is correlated negatively with weight status.

A preschool-based intervention program, such as one used in a study conducted by the University of Miami School of Medicine, which provides home-based counseling involving the entire family, has been shown to decrease the number of children ages 2 to 5 who were at risk for being overweight. The study report was presented at the American Heart Association’s Conference on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism.

According to a study in the BMC Public Health journal supported by the Harvard School of Public Health, the rate of obesity among preschool-aged children in the United States is high, with 26.2% of children aged 2 through 5 years being classified as either overweight or obese.

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