How early should we start taking steps to prevent childhood obesity? It could be before the baby is even born.
That’s the thinking of the research team behind the First 1,000 Days Program, an initiative launched by Massachusetts General Hospital for Children that provides assistance to women during the timeframe believed to be most critical to their child’s health – pregnancy and the first two years after birth.
The program is led by Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, chief of General Pediatrics at MGHfC, and Derri Shtasel, MD, MPH, executive director of The Kraft Center for Community Health at Partners HealthCare.
Here are some quick facts about the growing childhood obesity problem in the United States:
- One in 10 infants are considered overweight
- By kindergarten, an estimated 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese
- Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and early heart disease
- Overweight or obese children are also at an increased risk of being bullied, which can cause additional psychological problems
The 1,000 Days Program is based at the MGH Health Centers in Chelsea and Revere, and is designed to provide expectant mothers with the tools and resources needed to get their children off to a healthy start in life.
The research team is working to address childhood obesity by:
- Encouraging pregnant women to maintain a healthy weight throughout pregnancy
- Working with parents to help them distinguish between different cries from their children, so they don’t mistakenly feed a sleepy child
- Advocating the complete elimination of juice and sugary drinks, which contribute to weight gain and cavities
- Encouraging breastfeeding if possible, and if bottle feeding, for parents to watch for cues that the baby is full in order to prevent overfeeding
- Holding off on introducing solid foods until at least four months, six months if possible
- Revising expectations so toddlers are not required to clear their plate at every meal
The team also encourages parents to set a good example for their children by eating healthy as well.
The goal of the program is to reach 1,000 women during 2017. As of April the team had already met with over 600 women.
A portion of the study is supported by Dr. Taveras’ MGH Research Scholar award. These philanthropy funded awards provide investigators at Mass General with unrestricted funds that they can use to pursue promising new avenues of research. Taveras is an Ofer and Shelly Nemirovsky MGH Research Scholar.
Read more about the 1,000 Days Program here.