Bright Ideas

New Report from North Carolina Promotes Healthy Weight in Early Childhood


With obesity rates at an all time high and health costs increasing, the Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University, recently participated in a task force convened by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) to draft strategies that would target the obesity epidemic at its roots—the state’s youngest children birth to five. The task force issued recommendations that would bring together parents, childcare providers, health professionals and the community to promote healthy eating and physical activity in young children.

Although obesity rates have started to stabilize in the last year, North Carolina, like much of the nation, has experienced a dramatic increase in rates of obesity over the last three decades, leading to increased rates of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. The North Carolina Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, which collects data on low-income children ages 0-5 years, shows that the obesity epidemic affects even the youngest individuals in the state. Roughly 3 out of every 10 young low-income children ages 2-4 years are either overweight or obese in North Carolina. Obese children are at increased risk for elevated cholesterol, insulin, and blood pressure; sleep apnea; bone and joint problems; and social and psychological problems.

Early childhood obesity is linked to obesity rates of older children and eventually adults. Children who are obese by age 6 years or overweight by age 12 years have greater than a 50% likelihood of becoming obese adults. According to a 2013 report by the Trust for America’s Health, almost a third of adult North Carolinians are obese.

Robin Moore, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Director of the Natural Learning Initiative, served on the task force, contributing expertise about the importance of the built environment for healthy child development. The Natural Learning Initiative is a research, design assistance, and community engagement unit founded in January 2000 to focus on outdoor design as an intervention tool in the built environment of children and families. A principal aim is to link environmental quality and human health through action research and community design and contribute to solving the problem of childhood overweight and obesity.

“When you consider there are nearly 5000 licensed childcare centers in North Carolina, improving their outdoor learning environments promises to become an area of landscape practice,” said Moore.

Recommendations include Community/Environment Strategies such as the following:

  • Expand the use of evidence-base and evidence-informed strategies for physical activity and nutrition in pilot childcare centers;
  • Provide pre-service and in-service education for childcare providers on evidence-based and evidence-informed strategies for physical activity and nutrition;
  • Increase the focus of Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina on young children and their families;
  • Form an Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Communications Committee to develop a communications campaign to support policy and behavior change to reduce early childhood obesity.

For more information, contact Eli Valsing, NLI Project Coordinator, eli_valsing@ncsu_edu, 919-515-8345.

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