Relationship between early childhood non-parental childcare and diet, physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep: a systematic review of longitudinal studies

The rising prevalence of childhood obesity is a global public health concern. Evidence suggests that exposure to non-parental childcare before age six years is associated with development of obesity, diet, and activity behaviours (physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep). However, findings are inconsistent and mostly from cross-sectional studies, making it difficult to identify the direction of causation in associations. This review identified and synthesised the published research on longitudinal associations between non-parental childcare during early childhood, diet, and activity behaviours. Seven databases were searched, and results were independently double-screened through title/abstract and full-text stages. Included studies were evaluated for risk of bias. Of the 18,793 references screened, 13 met eligibility criteria and were included in the review. These presented results on 89 tested childcare/outcome associations, 63 testing diet outcomes (59% null, remainder mixed), and 26 testing activity behaviour outcomes (85% null, remainder mixed). The scarce available literature indicates little and mixed evidence of a longitudinal association. This reflects a paucity of research, rather than clear evidence of no effect. There is an urgent need for studies investigating the longitudinal associations of non-parental childcare on diet and activity behaviours to assess potential lasting effects and mechanisms; whether and how effects vary by provider; and differences by intensity, duration, and population sub-groups.