Healthy Bodies from Birth

Children develop in response to their environments, and experiences in early childhood influence a child’s lifelong health and success. Parents can help to support optimal early development by encouraging healthy eating habits and physical activity. When it comes to certain health risks, such as adult obesity and diabetes, early childhood is when families establish patterns of activity and eating habits with lasting consequences.

Research shows that a newborn’s health and well-being depends in part on a mother’s nutrition, weight before pregnancy, and weight gain during pregnancy. These factors can contribute to poor birth outcomes, including prematurity.

For newborns, nutrition, physical development, safety, immunization, and access to health care have important influences on a child’s continued healthy physical development. Research shows that an infant should interact with parents or caregivers in daily activities that promote the exploration of their environment. When a child is encouraged to move, play and explore, they develop hand-eye and motor coordination,  while building their sense of self-confidence and interest in the world around them.1

It is important to strengthen healthy eating and physical activity at a young age, because inactive children are at much higher risk of becoming overweight and developing coronary heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.2 Experts recommend that toddlers should have at least thirty minutes of structured and sixty of unstructured physical activity a day.

When each day brings an opportunity for physical activity, children are on their way to a lifetime of physical activity and healthy well-being.3


Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECLKC). (2008). Physical Fitness in Infants and Toddlers. Office of Head Start: Washington, D.C.  Available here.

Parish, L. E., & Rudisill, M. E. (2006). HAPPE: Toddlers in Physical Play. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Valentini, N. C., M. E. Rudisill, & Goodway, J. D. (1999). Mastery climate: Children in charge of their own learning. Teaching Elementary Physical Education, 10(2), 6-10.