Early Nutrition: Why this Toolkit?
Early nutrition is both a personal and a political issue that impacts families, communities and ultimately our nation as a whole. It's not as simple as whether or not to breastfeed, picking a brand of formula or choosing which solid foods to feed and when.
Kids need the right nutrition, in the right amounts coupled with the right exercise. We all know that.
But did you know that early nutrition choices help determine how well a child can learn in school? Or whether he or she will graduate from high school ready for college, work and life? Studies show that what and when babies and kids eat influences how efficiently they learn; it can also predict the risk of certain diseases and obesity.
We're learning more about infant and toddler nutrition every year.
One thing is for sure, the early years are critical—but that fact doesn't have to be scary or stressful.
With the right information and tools, we can all work together to be sure more families have what they need to support healthy early nutrition at home, at work and everywhere else they spend their time.
Why This Matters
If you're a parent, you already know why it matters (but you may need help making the right choices and making sense of all the information out there). You may also be surprised to know that there's plenty you can do to make a big difference for children outside your own family.
If you're not a parent, don't click "CLOSE" just yet! This toolkit is also designed for you. Whether you're a volunteer, community leader, advocate, service provider or policymaker, you have a role to play in making sure the conditions are right for all of our nation's children to get the nutrition they need to make a healthy start.
It matters to kids (and the adults they'll become), to communities, and to our medical system and our economy as a whole.
Childhood obesity rates in the U.S. are staggering—and are on the rise, tripling in the past three decades. Currently, more than 31 percent of 2- to 19-year-olds are overweight or obese, according to this fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health; and rates are highest among low-income and minority children. Hispanics are at particular risk: 38 percent of Hispanic children are overweight or obese.
With these rates come increasing health and financial burdens -- including increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease as well as stress and low self-esteem.
Snapshot of Overweight in America's Children
Source: National Institutes of Health
We Know How to Solve this Problem
Research has shown us what works to prevent and reverse childhood obesity and many of the associated health problems. We know what works. Some of it is common sense: eat better, eat less, get an hour of moderate exercise, ideally every day.
But what about babies?
A 2011 long-term study finds that obesity can start young: nearly 32 percent of U.S. babies are overweight or obese at 9 months. Hispanic children and those in poorer families were the most likely to weigh too much as infants. Heart disease, obesity, diabetes and renal failure are among the conditions influenced by nutrition in the womb and during the first year of life.
The good news, according to the study, is that a few easy changes can bring infants back into healthy weight ranges by age 2.
Some of what works may surprise you: breastfeeding, for example, has powerful health benefits for mothers and babies and can help lower the risk of childhood obesity.
Breastfeeding is a personal activity that at times requires public activism—for example, to convince employers to set up a private, pump-friendly space in the office or to advocate for changes to policy, as when advocates pushed for a change in IRS tax laws to let new moms claim breast pumps as a tax deductible medical expense (it happened in 2011!).
Using This Toolkit
We developed this toolkit to bring information, news and data you can trust together with personal stories and clear ideas to take action on all aspects of early nutrition. No matter who or where you are, you can get involved today and make a difference.
We're adding new resources every day, so please check back often!
Please also share your story or your favorite tools and resources with us.