Center-Based Childcare Associated With Healthier Body Weight

Will Pass

June 16, 2022

Children who attend center-based childcare are more likely to maintain a healthier body weight than children who receive nonparental, non–center-based care – especially if they come from lower-income families – a new study finds.

The findings of the prospective Canadian study suggest that professional childcare centers that engage in standard practices are having a positive and lasting impact on children's health, reported lead author Michaela Kucab, RD, MHSc, of the University of Toronto and colleagues.

"Attending center-based childcare in early childhood may influence important health behaviors including nutrition, physical activity, and routines related to child growth and weight status," the investigators wrote in their abstract, which Kucab presented at the virtual conference sponsored by the American Society for Nutrition.

Their study involved 3,503 children who attended childcare in Canada during early childhood (mean age at baseline was 2.7 years) with follow-up from ages 4-10.

Overweight/Obesity Risk Reduced

Children who received full-time, center-based care had a 22% lower risk of overweight/obesity and a mean body mass index z score (zBMI) that was 0.11 points lower at age 4 and 7 years than those who received non–center-based care. The benefits of center-based care were even more pronounced among children from lower-income families, who, at age 10, had a 48% lower risk of overweight/obesity and a mean zBMI that was 0.32 points lower with center-based versus non–center-based care.

In a written comment, Kucab and principal author Jonathon Maguire, MD, MSc, of the University of Toronto, explained that the former difference in zBMI translates to approximately half a pound of bodyweight in an average child, whereas the larger difference in zBMI among children from lower-income families would amount to approximately three pounds. They emphasized that these are rough estimations.

Kucab and Maguire noted that body weight differences correlated with the amount of time spent in center-based care.

"There was an observed trend, whereby the estimated mean difference [in zBMI] became slightly larger (or stronger) with a higher intensity of center-based childcare compared to non–center-based childcare," they said.

To learn more about the earliest impacts of center-based care, the investigators are conducting a clinical trial, The Nutrition Recommendation Intervention Trials in Children's Health Care (NuRISH), which will involve 600 children aged younger than 2 years.

Center-Based Childcare May Reduce Disadvantages of Low-Income Children

"Although more research is needed, our findings suggest that center-based childcare may help" reduce disadvantages children from low-income families experience related to their heath," Kucab said in a press release.

Laurent Legault, MD an associate professor specializing in endocrinology in the department of pediatrics at McGill University, Montreal, highlighted the "quite significant" sample size of more than 3,000 participants, noting that "it's quite tough to have numerous children" involved in a study, especially with several years of follow-up.

Legault also praised the investigators for considering socioeconomic status, "which is absolutely paramount, because, unfortunately, it's not necessarily an even playing field for these families."

He said the findings deserve to be promoted, as they highlight the benefits of center-based care, including ones with room for physical activity, opportunities for social interaction with other children, and a structured routine.

Still, Legault said it's "very difficult to pinpoint specifically" what led to healthier body weights. "The problem, of course, is that obesity is very multifactorial in nature," although "early intervention is more likely to be efficient."

Center-based care appears to be one such intervention, he said, which should "push people to make centered care more affordable and easy to access for everyone."

The investigators and Legault reported no conflicts of interest.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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