Parents whose young children regularly attend day care outside the home apparently have more to worry about than increased exposure to colds or the flu. A new study suggests that attending day care could dramatically increase a child's chances of becoming obese during childhood.
The study by researchers at the University of Montreal, in Canada, found that children ages 18 months to 4 years old who attend day care on a regular basis or were cared for by an extended family member were 50 percent more likely to be overweight between the ages of 4 to 10 compared to those who stayed at home with their parents, according to the researchers, who conducted the study along with the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Centre. The results were published in November in the Journal of Pediatrics.
"This difference cannot be explained by known risk factors such as socioeconomic status of the parents, breastfeeding,the body mass index of the mother, or employment status of the mother," lead researcher Dr. Marie-Claude Geoffroy noted.
Researchers drew their conclusions after studying more than 1,600 families with kids born between 1997 and 1998 in the province of Quebec. Mothers were interviewed four times about the care of their children, starting when the kids were 18 months old and ending when they were 4 years old. Then researchers followed the kids for six years, regularly measuring their height and weight.
So what's the explanation for the higher risk? Researchers say they don't have a clear answer.
"Diet and physical activity are avenues to follow," study co-director Dr. Sylvana Côté said. "Parents don't have to worry; however, I suggest to parents they ensure their children eat well and get enough physical activity, whether at home or at day care."
The researchers did suggest that there's potential for day-care facilities to reverse the situation by encouraging physical activity and healthy eating.