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

  • Vegetarian and vegan diets have become increasingly popular over the past few years, with more and more parents raising their children on a plant-based diet. Toddlers have high-energy needs and small stomachs, so it is important parents know how to ensure their child gets all the nutrients needed for healthy growth and development. The Infant & Toddler Forum are here to help with practical tips and advice for parents considering a vegetarian or vegan diet for their toddler.
  • Encouraging toddlers to keep physically active will help them to develop movement skills, stay a healthy weight and keep a healthy heart. No matter the weather, we have fun activities which will keep your toddler active and entertained this Easter!
  • Pregnant women are given lots of advice surrounding healthy eating and lifestyle, but this is often based on old or outdated information. There are so many myths and misconceptions floating around that it can be difficult for mums-to-be to tell fact from fiction. Here are our tips and guidance, so you can feel confident about having a healthy pregnancy.