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Sep 01 2016

Childhood Obesity: How Home Visitors Can Help Families


By, Sarah Frith Coleman, Coordinated Intake Manager, Arkansas Home Visiting Network

It’s hard not to turn on the news and hear about the childhood obesity epidemic, especially when it comes to children in K-12 grades.

But did you know that there is growing evidence that the roots of childhood obesity start well before kindergarten? 

Obesity rates are climbing in both infants and toddlers, preventing them from having a healthy start in life.

The good news is that all of us, including home visiting programs, have important roles in helping prevent childhood obesity in our youngest children. Children deserve a healthy start in life, and home visitors can help empower families in establishing healthy routines so infants and toddlers are eating healthy foods and engaging in beneficial physical activities.

Here are a few concrete ways that home visitors can help their families adopt healthy habits to reduce the risk of childhood obesity.

Encourage Breastfeeding During a Home Visit

Encourage home visiting mothers to consider breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a powerful tool for mothers in combating obesity in her children. There is strong evidence that breastfeeding is a strong protective factor in preventing obesity in children.The Centers for Disease Control has an excellent guide on how to support breastfeeding mothers and can be found here.

Take Advantage of Well-Child Visits

Home visitors can encourage their families to keep their well-child visits. These visits allow families and pediatricians to assess a child’s health, including risk factors associated with childhood obesity. Pediatricians routinely check whether a child’s height and weight is within acceptable range and offer advice to families. Be sure to check out the American Academy of Pediatrics schedule of well-child visits here.

Eat Smarter and Avoid Added Sugars

How often do home visitors see parents giving young children sugary drinks, cereals, and processed snack foods? Talk to families about the dangers of heavily-processed foods and added sugars in an infant or toddler’s diet. Encourage families in understanding the importance of adding healthy whole fruits and vegetables into the family’s diet. Eating a healthy diet and monitoring a child’s added sugar consumption are key in preventing childhood obesity. According to new guidelines from the American Heart Association, children ages 2-18 years should not consume more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar in one day. Family-friendly information on dietary guidelines for children can be found here through the Association of Nutrition and Dietetics.

For more information on healthy eating guidelines for children, be sure to check out the fantastic family-friendly resources provided by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) by clicking here. AND also has a great section of resources for women, including pregnant women, which can be found here.


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