Prevention of Overweight and Obesity in Infants and Toddlers
An Interview with Dr. Rachel Téllez, Medical Advisor to the Head Start Bureau
Rachel Téllez, M.D. is no stranger to the issue of obesity in infants and toddlers. She is a Pediatrician at Unity Health Care, Inc. in Washington, DC where 30% of the children are overweight. In fact, the obesity rates for all children have more than doubled and almost tripled in the last 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control-CDC (1998) found an increase of 18.6% to 21.6% from 1983 to 1995 in low-income preschool children across 18 states and the District of Columbia. An increasing public health problem among preschool children and infants and toddlers across the country, childhood obesity must be addressed on multiple levels. The following interview with Dr. Téllez gives more insight into this growing problem.
K.D-Berry: Why is the problem of obesity in young children so important to Early Head Start (EHS) and Head Start (HS) staff?
Dr. Téllez: Although this is a growing problem across the country for all young children, the problem has the greatest impact for underserved populations (e.g. Latino-American, African-American and American Indian). In general, for these populations, there are many barriers to having a healthy lifestyle, including but not limited to:
Lack of safe play areas. More often than not, underserved populations are over represented in low income neighborhoods, where there’s typically more crime and street violence. Families who live in areas where a lot of violence and crime exist are not comfortable allowing their young children to play outside. These children often stay in the house, and begin patterns of leading sedentary lifestyles at young ages—ages at which they should be more active. EHS and HS programs can play a vital role in providing regular movement and exercise activities for infants and toddlers in protected environments.
Parents working more than one job. Many parents served by EHS and HS have to work more than one job to make ends meet. Parents often do not have the time to closely monitor young children’s food choices because they are busy running from one job to the next. It is often easier and quicker to serve fast food, for instance, than to cook a meal. In EHS and HS programs, all meal plans are monitored and approved before serving to infants and toddlers. Program staff share these meal plans with families as a way to model healthy eating habits. Parents can also learn how to make quick and nutritious meals and include their children in the preparation. For busy, working parents, having healthy food ideas is helpful and young children benefit from these choices.
Lack of access to and high cost of fresh fruit and vegetables. For working parents it is often easier to go to the local convenience store than to take young children to a distant store with fresher food. Fresh food (for example fruit and vegetables; healthy snacks) is expensive and sometimes difficult to locate in certain communities. Fresh fruit and vegetables need to be made more available to all communities and at affordable prices. EHS and HS programs can partner with local food banks and other similar organizations around providing healthy food and snacks for families at affordable prices.
Reprinted with the permission of the Department of Health and Human Services.
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