LONDON – Nurseries should ban toddlers from watching television in a bid to fight childhood obesity, say experts, while parent should remove sets from their children’s bedrooms.
The warning, from academics involved in an EC-funded project to make nurseries healthier, comes amid growing fears that too many children are overweight or obese when they start school.
The “ToyBox” survey found that obesity among European pre-schoolers is at record levels.
Nearly 40 per cent of pre-school girls in Spain are now classified as overweight or obese, it found.
In Britain, more than a fifth are overweight or obese by the time they start school, according to official figures, reported The Daily Telegraph.
Prof Yannis Manios, assistant professor at Harokopio University, Athens, who is co-ordinating the project, said: “We need a new approach to prevent obesity.
“We found that many countries are lacking clear guidelines on healthy eating and active play.
“However, there is good evidence linking sedentary behaviour, such as television watching, with subsequent obesity.”
Studies have shown children are particularly still when watching television, reducing their energy expenditure below that required for other sedentary activities.
Prof Manios went on: “Therefore, television watching in kindergartens should be replaced by more active, non-competitive, fun activities which will promote the participation of the whole class and help children to achieve optimal growth, health and well-being.”
Public health experts always want to target young children because they believe it quickly becomes much harder to influence behaviour and make a big impact as they grow older.
In the words of the study, pre-schoolers are “more malleable” while early childhood is “the ideal window in time to intervene”.
Prof Manios said pre-schoolers should be easy to get off the sofa.
“‘Young children are naturally energetic and they like being physically active since for them this is a way to interact socially and make friends,” he said.
“However, in the opposite direction, the natural human preference for sweet tasting and energy-dense foods and drinks is leading children towards these food items whenever they are exposed to them.
“For these reasons, obesity prevention programmes should try to ensure that children have free time and space to be physically active, create a healthy food and drink environment but also guide teachers and parents on how they can promote such behaviours.”
He also had advice for parents: “Similarly at home, televisions in the bedroom and unhealthy snacks in the kitchen cupboard are a bad idea.
“Parents should also remember that their role is not only to provide healthy food and drink options but to act as a role model themselves, since kids are copying their behaviours.”
The study involves research in Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the UK. AGENCIES