Preventing Childhood Obesity

Preventing Childhood Obesity from Birth

By: Nancy Trout, MD, MPH and Stacy Chandna, MS, CIP

Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health (the Office) is excited to launch the Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right (Kohl’s SCOR) initiative to prevent childhood obesity from birth. The initiative is funded through a generous grant from Kohl’s. The most recent Community Health Needs Assessment done by Connecticut Children’s in 2016 identified the need to decrease the prevalence and comorbidity of childhood obesity, and Kohl’s SCOR will address that need.

Childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years and disproportionately affects low income, black, and Latino children. Obese children are at increased risk for chronic health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, joint problems, asthma, and mental health disorders. A recently released University of Connecticut study showed that 32 percent of Hartford 3-5 year olds are overweight or obese. Obese school aged children have a higher risk than normal weight children of becoming obese adolescents and adults.  The direct costs of childhood obesity are estimated to be over $14 billion annually, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs.

Good nutrition and regular physical activity are crucial to optimal health and development outcomes and to long-term health and well-being. Mounting evidence is showing the first 1,000 days from conception to age 2 to be a critical period for the prevention of obesity. With the general lack of long-term success of obesity interventions for older children, and with children’s food and taste preferences largely developed by age 2, healthy nutrition and physical activity needs to begin from birth.

Kohl’s SCOR will create a multi-faceted community-wide obesity prevention intervention that seeks to:

  • Re-establish a community wellness alliance to mobilize a network of partners in Hartford around childhood obesity prevention to address resource gaps and barriers to healthy eating, and to identify resources and information available for families with small children.
  • Use the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research to educate pediatric providers about risk factors for developing obesity so they can screen children from birth to 2, identify those at risk, provide early interventions for them, and connect families to community resources using the Child Development Infoline.
  • Train community outreach workers, or recruit those who have been trained, to educate families on obesity prevention strategies such as promoting breastfeeding, introducing healthy solid foods, limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and unhealthy snacks, encouraging healthy physical activity and screen time recommendations, and helping them to access resources.
  • Host community-based wellness events to engage the Hartford community, disseminate consistent obesity-prevention messages, and foster connections between Hartford residents with community alliance partners.
  • Using the Child Development Infoline, Kohl’s SCOR will collect data on numbers of engaged families, organizations, community outreach workers, and pediatric providers.

Nutrition is arguably one of the most significant individual factors in early childhood growth and development. By partnering with the Hartford community and investing in early prevention efforts, Kohl’s SCOR will improve the nutritional status of Hartford’s youngest children and work with their families to start childhood off right and put them on a trajectory for a lifelong healthy weight.

Nancy Trout, MD, MPH is a Connecticut Children’s pediatrician and co-director of the Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right initiative.

Stacy Chandna, MS, CIP is head of the Human Research Protection Program at Connecticut Children’s and co-director of the Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right initiative.

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