Research finds that activity levels in families and the amount of sleep a toddler receives are linked to an increased risk of obesity

The Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF) welcomes new research published this week in Paediatricsi that establishes a direct, positive association between physical activity in four year old children and their mothers – the more activity the mother did, the more active the child. In addition, another study from the University College London, published in International Journal of Obesityii highlighted that toddlers that received less than ten hours sleep ate 10% more calories than those who slept for longer, which put this group at a greater risk of obesity.

This new evidence supports the ITF’s Ten Steps for Healthy Toddlers programme which encourages toddlers to engage in 3 hours of physical activity and 12 hours of sleep per day and highlights the important role parents have to play in developing healthy habits early on in life.

Judy More, paediatric dietician and ITF member said: “Whilst good nutrition will go a long way to optimising health, growth and development in young children, parents and health professionals must not underestimate the importance of activity and sleep too. Encouraging active play, active lifestyles and regular sleep patterns is critical for physical and mental health and development. Physical activity in the toddler years is vital for developing the physical skills, coordination and confidence to ensure enjoyment and participation in sport throughout their school life thus reducing the likelihood of obesity and the risks of developing heart disease and diabetes later in life.”

Celebrating its ten year anniversary, the ITF is taking a life course approach to nutrition and health, exploring the early connection through pregnancy, infancy and toddlerhood. Our aim is to support and empower families to make healthy lifestyle choices by delivering clear, practical advice on those critical early windows of opportunity to provide children with the best start in life.


i. Activity Levels in Mothers and Their Preschool Children, Pediatrics, 24th March 2014. Available at Last accessed 26.03.14

ii. International Journal of Obesity, Last accessed 26.03.14

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Further Reading

  • By Melanie Pilcher and Dr. Gillian Harris Establishing bedtime routines for toddlers and young children
  • By Dr. Gillian Harris, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Birmingham and ITF member Most parents will struggle at some point to get their toddlers to eat certain foods. Is toddler food refusal a sign of an eating disorder. or is it merely a phase? In the run up to Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Gill Harris provides practical advice to help parents tackle fussy eating in toddlers.  
  • By Lucy Upton, on behalf of the Infant and Toddler Forum On behalf of the members of the Infant and Toddler Forum, I am proud to announce the launch of a new infant feeding educational programme, which includes practical resources for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) working with parents and infants.