Prevention of overweight and obesity in children under the age of 6 years

Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Aug;34(4):551-70. doi: 10.1139/H09-016.


Although obesity was rarely observed among children 30 years ago, it is now evident among Canadian children of all ages. Currently, 15.2% of 2- to 5-year-old children are overweight, whereas 6.3% are obese. Limited data suggest that poor dietary and physical activity patterns are increasing obesity risk among these young children. Body weight and lifestyle behaviours are known to track from childhood to adulthood, thereby increasing the risk for obesity and other chronic diseases later in life. Intrauterine life, infancy, and the preschool years may all include critical periods that program the long-term regulation of energy balance, and therefore obesity-prevention strategies should be initiated in utero and continue throughout childhood and adolescence. Although single-strategy obesity-prevention initiatives have had limited success, programs that target multiple behaviours may help reduce body weight and body fat among young children. Parental involvement is key to the success of obesity-prevention programs at a young age, as parents have primary control over their children's food and activity environments. Accordingly, parental obesity is the best predictor of childhood obesity. Parents should be encouraged to teach and role model healthy lifestyle behaviours for their young children. Health professionals can also be involved in obesity prevention, as they are ideally placed to identify young children at risk for obesity. By calculating and plotting the body mass index for all children, and initiating obesity-prevention strategies in utero, health professionals can help curb the rise in overweight and obesity among young children.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Child Behavior
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Exercise
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Life Style
  • National Health Programs
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Overweight / etiology
  • Overweight / prevention & control*
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*
  • Sleep