Eat, Play and Sleep to Lose Weight

Childhood obesity can be prevented

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

The rates at which childhood obesity are increasing are cause for alarm. Parents, day care workers and government officials need to come together to fight this growing epidemic.

Researchers from the Institute of Medicine found that a combination of eating, sleeping and exercising will help youngsters be healthier and may help end obesity.

What is Institute of Medicine?

  • The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is a nonprofit organization that helps government officials, the private sector and the public make informed decisions regarding health
  • The IOM provides reliable, unbiased evidence to advise the nation on ways to improve overall health
  • The organization addresses the most up-to-date, pressing health news to provide any individual with relevant information to make the best and most healthful choices
  • The IOM works directly with Congress to advise on a number of different health topics ranging from vaccine safety to environmental hazards

What's the problem?

The statistics are alarming:

  • Childhood obesity is of so much concern because weight-related diseases – like diabetes and high blood pressure – are occurring more frequently in teens and young adults
  • Almost 10 percent of infants and toddlers are carrying excess weight
  • An estimated 10 percent of infants and 20 percent of preschoolers are overweight
  • Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to become obese as adults and this can affect the quality and longevity of their adult lives

The focus of the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention report:

To provide reliable information regarding recommendations on nutrition, physical activity and inactive behavior for children ages 5 and younger to guide child care providers, health professionals and policy makers.

The objective of the report is to help all stakeholders make better informed decisions to prevent childhood obesity by providing healthier environments and educating families on healthier eating and sleeping habits.

IOM recommendations:

The IOM recommends the following for physical activity, healthy eating, media use and sleep.

Physical activity:

  • Provide opportunities for infants to wander freely inside and outside
  • Have more adult-infant interactions by playing with the babies on the ground
  • Increase daily tummy time, in which babies lay on their stomach
  • Provide toddlers and children at least 15 minutes per hour of exercise
  • Provide inside and outside playing time
  • Introduce games that require physical movement such as a treasure hunt or hide and seek
  • Refrain from putting children in time outs – you don't want to restrict their physical activity
  • Strollers, swings and bouncer seats are not replacements for physical activity and should only be used when necessary

Healthy eating:

  • Mothers should breastfeed for at least six months
  • Solid foods should be introduced after breastfeeding ends
  • Breastfeeding and introducing solid foods after six months decreases risks for obesity
  • Parents need to recognize hunger and fullness cues to encourage and stop children from eating too little or too much
  • Diets for children should focus on nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Children should be discouraged from consuming foods that are lacking nutritional value like soda and candy
  • Allow children to serve themselves to help children understand their own cues of hunger and fullness

Media use:

  • Parents and caregivers should limit screen time to two hours per day
  • Screen time includes watching TV, using a cell phone or playing on gaming devices
  • Screen time of more than two hours a day is associated with an inactive lifestyle and increased exposure to food and beverage advertising
  • The IOM recommends parents not put TVs and media devices in the child's bedroom.


  • Provide adequate amounts of sleep; speak with healthcare provider to determine the appropriate amount
  • The IOM found that over the past 20 years children – especially children under three years – have been getting less sleep which is linked to increased obesity risks.
  • Allow regular nap time for children under age of 5.

How professionals can help:

It is important that pediatricians and other healthcare professionals take the opportunity to educate parents about weight management and healthy eating, playing and sleep habits during regular visits. This support will help parents and children learn about healthy behaviors that can prevent obesity.

A multi-dimensional approach that involves parents, day care centers and healthcare provders is what's needed. This collaborative effort that addresses these areas will go a long way toward ending the national crisis of childhood obesity, says Leann Birch, distinguished professor of human development and director of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Penn State.

Review Date: 
July 6, 2011