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Day Care Makes Kids Fat

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A new study says babies in day care are more likely to gain weight than those cared for at home. We asked pediatrician and momlogic contributor Dr. Cara Natterson if we should be concerned.


One out of every three children in this country is obese, and an estimated 17% of all American children are overweight. The issue of heaviness has grown to epidemic proportions. One study published this month tries to identify some of the earliest pieces in the puzzle: Does day care contribute to excessive weight gain?

The study demonstrates that infants attending day care gained an average of 0.4 pounds more in their first nine months of life than their peers who stayed home with mom or dad. The authors suggest a variety of explanations, including: less breastfeeding and more bottle feeding among day care attendees; early transition to solid foods among infants in day care; and a greater likelihood that an unhappy child will be soothed with food or drink in day care versus at home. In fact, children cared for at home by a relative (rather than a parent) also experienced greater weight gain than their parent-raised peers, though not quite as much as the kids in day care, a phenomenon that can be explained by many of the same factors.

There is good evidence that children who are overweight at age 2 are more likely to go on to be overweight adults. This data is not nearly as clear for infants. However, if there is some association here--particularly if non-parent caretakers are soothing babies with food or drink and instilling bad habits early on--then this study makes a very important point.

Dr. Cara Natterson, author of Your Toddler: Head To Toe is a pediatrician and mother of 2. To buy a copy of her book, click here

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18 comments so far | Post a comment now
foxymama July 10, 2008, 1:46 PM

Yikes - everywhere we look kids are FAT. We’ve got to figure out a way to combat it. Why can’t parents be more healthy? I need to be more healthy. As a working mom it’s just easier eating “fast” food rather than really taking the time to make sure it’s “good” food.

Amber July 10, 2008, 2:07 PM

Day cares seem to serve more easily prepared foods than some people at home do.
One of my mom friends told me that the day care her 2 year old goes to frequently serves pizza, frozen chicken nuggets, spaghetti, fries, ect. They told her the only way to keep her child from eating those foods was to get a note from the doctor stating the child was vegan. And she’s only 2 years old!
I stay home with my kids and I don’t serve them those things on a daily basis. Yes, my kids have all had frozen nuggets, pizza and fries, but no where near once a week let alone daily.
I think that’s a reason why kids in day cares are gaining weight faster.
And day cares serve juices a lot. Milk is a touchy subject too because of the rise in allergies. When my kids were in pre-school I had to provide their milk because they are lactose-intolerant. And they got pure juice A LOT in pre-school. They were allowed to pour it themselves to teach them how, and they were allowed to have as many glasses as they wanted. I asked them to cut back on the juice or at least water it down for my kids but they wouldn’t.
So yeah, kids that stay home probably don’t gain as much weight because we can control what our kids eat and drink that way. My twins are 5 and I still water down their juice.

Isabella's Mom July 10, 2008, 2:49 PM

I think it all depends on the type of day care center the child is placed at. My 14-month-old daughter has been with this specific day care for 6 months and they offer a menu with a very large variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack categories that parents choose from every week. They offer everything from breakfast - waffles, fresh fruit, scrambbled eggs, milk, water, toast to lunch - salmon (various kinds of fish on a daily menu), pastas, meats, chicken,steamed and/or raw veggies to vegan menus and finally snacks are offered 3xs daily consisting of fresh fruit, organic crackers, mini bagels for some variety, etc.
My daughter is very happy with this and her diet is just right for her age per her doctor. All the kids currently with this day care are happy kids that are not overweight. It all depends on the facility and the type of home your child’s in.

Anon July 10, 2008, 3:20 PM

Another stupid so called “study” that’s going to get SAHMs and WOHMs worked up over nothing.

Roxanne July 10, 2008, 3:25 PM

I completely agree with Isabella’s mom. I myself am an In-home Childcare Provider and it does depend on the childcare program. I am part of my state’s food program which has very strict guidelines on how many sweets per week that we can serve. In fact, we can not even serve boxed mac-n-cheese, hamburger helper, etc. I make them all home-made. We have to report daily what the children are eating and they offer trainings to help give us more ideas/options for meals. In my case, I have alot of children that actually get better snacks/meals at childcare than at home. I also offer new foods alot more often than some parents do. Like I said…I think that it all depends on the family and the childcare program.

Patricia Dischler July 10, 2008, 7:36 PM

A couple of truths came out here - one, that (some) working parents often take the drive-through route rather than healthy, and two, that nutrition at a daycare depends on the daycare. Most state licensed daycares have to meet the Food Program standards, like Roxanne mentioned. I ran a home daycare for 17 years and was often asked by the Mom’s not to post my menus because the Dad’s will see that the kids are eatting better during the day than what they get at home! My book, “From Babysitter to Business Owner” teaches providers how to raise the quality of care they provide, including meals. Parents should be aware that you can often “get what you pay for” in daycare. Low cost may translate into low standards for nutrition.

Anonymous July 11, 2008, 4:18 PM

I think the problem of overweight children is not restricted to daycare children. Whoever did this study must have missed the obese toddlers waddling around with zipper bags of high sugar cereal that I run into at our home education meetings. These children have never seen the inside of a daycare but some of them are so overweight they get winded walking up a set of stairs and seem incapable of going anywhere without a cup of juice and baggy of cereal.

Suzanne July 14, 2008, 3:17 PM

I wish I had the option of the school preparing food for my daughters! I have to bring in lunch everyday for my 4 1/2 year old which they won’t warm up for me and she hates sandwiches. If anyone has a replaement for lukewarm chicken nuggets, fish sticks, pizza rolls and pasta I am listening but that is all she will eat for lunch right now. Luckily she is super skinny (didn’t get that from me) but I am at a loss. Don’t want her to not eat and cry but also need different food to pack. Can’t wait for kindergarten for her to really hate the food. My 11 month old I still send in with baby food but soon it will be table food for her too and I don’t know what to send (besides fruit which they both eat, thank goodness) that is healthy.

Ideas anyone?

rulsgrl August 14, 2008, 10:19 AM

I can totally understand why it seems like daycare kids could be fatter than stay at home kids, daycares feed them a LOT. My daughters daycare feeds the kids every two hours. And they put a ton of food in front of them. When my daughter is at home on sat and sun, she eats about half of what she eats during the week at daycare, becuase she doesnt want to eat after pigging out all week at “baby school”.

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