New York City Wants To Start Tackling The Obesity Epidemic At Day Care Centers

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Nearly 2,300 New York City-licensed day care centers will have limits on what drinks they can serve youngsters and the length of time kids are allowed to be idle, under new rules adopted by the city’s Board of Health.

The new rules include a reduction of sedentary time from one hour per day to 30 minutes. Children under the age of two will also not be allowed to drink juice, while older daycare enrollees will be limited to four ounces of juice per day. New York City health officials said the guidelines, which will affect nearly 135,000 children, will help them better combat childhood obesity.

“There is solid evidence that dietary and lifestyle habits develop at a very early age, and can have lasting effects on an individual’s health,” city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett told the Associated Press. “We feel confident that the new amendments will help children across New York City get a healthy start in life.”

In the United States, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Excess body weight puts young people at a greater risk for cardiovascular diseases, prediabetes, bone and joint problems, and other chronic health conditions.

The rollout of New York City’s new rules comes months after the Obama administration proposed dietary guidelines for day cares that would require providers to serve a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and less sugar and fat. Other restrictions include limits on fried food, pre-packaged meals, and apple and orange juices. Administration officials announced these proposals in the Federal Register, likening it to the requirements for K-12 schools that serve breakfast and lunch.

Addressing childhood obesity rates has been a national priority for the Obama administration. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the “Let’s Move” campaign, an effort to prevent childhood obesity by getting parents more informed about nutrition and exercise, improving the quality of food in schools, making healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families, and increasing the focus on physical education. “[O]ne in three kids are overweight or obese, and we’re spending $150 billion a year treating obesity-related illnesses. So we know this is a problem, and there’s a lot at stake,” Obama told ABC News during the “Let’s Move” launch.

First Lady Obama and health care advocates admit that, even with government-imposed regulations, much work remains to be done in combating childhood obesity.

This is certainly the case in the Big Apple. While childhood obesity has declined in the city by 10 percent within five years, according to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, not much has improved for boys, children of color, and those living in low-income neighborhoods. And this year, recess became a casualty for schoolchildren in New York City during the frigid winter. The city’s department of education doesn’t mandate recess, instead asking that schools provide at least 20 minutes of outdoor play and activity time. For many youngsters, that meant that playtime took place in a makeshift space within their schools for weeks.

Health experts say that healthy eating can lower one’s risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases and ailments in life including heart disease, heart attack and stroke. A balanced diet also reduces the risk of certain cancers, kidney stones, and bone loss. Eating vegetables that are lower in calories also helps to lower calorie intake.

The same line of thinking applies to physical activity. Earlier this month, a Stanford University research team warned that a failure to increase recreational activities for children could adversely affect their conflict resolution skills, their outlook on learning, and overall physical and mental wellbeing. In a press release, founding director of Stanford’s John W. Gardner Center Milbrey McLaughlin advised schools to establish effective recess programs that follow the guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This newest endeavor to curb obesity in New York City follows an attempt by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg to levy taxes on large sodas and other sugary drinks in 2013. The state’s highest court rejected that mandate last June, to the chagrin of child health advocates who supported the measure.