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

  • Lucy Upton, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist   Sugar is everywhere, and the trouble is, a lot of the sugar we eat can be hidden in the food we buy – and often in foods we wouldn’t expect! It is no secret that a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet is essential for toddlers’ growth and development, and this includes keeping a close eye on their sugar consumption. The question of just how much sugar is healthy for young children to consume is one on many parents’ lips. Our guide below aims to demystify sugar consumption and provide tips and advice on how to keep your child’s sugar intake within the recommended amounts.
  • Lucy Upton, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist   Nothing describes a rollercoaster more accurately than the early months with your newborn baby. With the rush of love and amazing bonding experience that many new parents feel also comes numerous unknowns and challenges which can cause high levels of anxiety. Not always having the answer or being unsure of where to look for trusted information can naturally leave some parents feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Lucy Upton, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist   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.