About ECE

handsWhat is Early Care and Education (ECE)?

ECE is the teaching and care of young children, from birth until the time they attend school, by someone other than a family member in a setting outside of the home. ECE facilities include:
– child care centers,
– day care homes (large and small),
– all types of Head Start programs,
– pre-schools, and
– pre-kindergarten programs.

ECE facilities can be public or private, not-for-profit or for-profit.  Some are licensed by the state and may have been inspected prior to opening and on a periodic basis.  Most charge fees that are paid by parents, taxpayers, and/or sponsoring organizations.  Some include early learning opportunities. ECE facilities vary widely when it comes to the provision of healthy foods and beverages; sufficient opportunities for physical activity (both teacher-led and unstructured); use of screen time, and support for breastfeeding mothers.

The ECE system includes a complex array of federal, state, and local stakeholders and funding streams. Governmental agencies, offices, and programs at federal and state levels, as well as national organizations, are key components of the ECE system. .
– Federal Agencies and Programs
– State Systems
– National Organizations 

This website introduces a framework for considering the avenues through which states, as well as local jurisdictions, might act to insure policies and practices affecting ECE facilities result in improved nutrition, breastfeeding support, and physical activity and reduced screen time [see Opportunities section].

Why the ECE setting is Critical for Obesity Prevention

The ECE setting is a critical place for obesity prevention efforts. Ideally, all ECE programs should provide healthy foods and beverages, sufficient opportunities for physical activity, limit screen time, and support breastfeeding mothers.  ECE is included in the Surgeon General’s vision for reversing obesity trends1 and The White House Childhood Obesity Task Force Report,2  and is a key component of the national Let’s Move! initiative to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation.  

ECE providers can positively influence children’s health directly through the kinds of foods and beverages they serve and allow in their facilities; the opportunities they provide for safe, age-appropriate physical activity; their support of breastfeeding mothers; and judicious use of screen time.  These set a solid foundation for the development of healthy habits, which can be further strengthened through the incorporation of nutrition and activity-related education into daily routines (e.g. curricula, story time, child participation in food preparation, style of meal service, etc.).

The influences of the ECE setting on children’s health and habit formation can also have a ‘ripple’ effect into family homes, both because of children’s direct influence on parents’ behaviors, as well as parents’ openness to ECE providers as a valuable source for child rearing information and advice.  Research demonstrates that healthy habits developed in early life lay the foundation for lifelong healthy habits.


ECE is the Norm in the U.S.

The use of ECE facilities has become the norm for the majority of working families.  Obesity prevention efforts targeting the ECE setting would reach a majority of young children during a critical period of their development.

– More than 60% of children younger than 6 years are in some form of non-parental care arrangement on a weekly basis with the majority in a center-based ECE facility. In any given week, more than 12 million children under age 6 spend an average of 30 hours in non-parental care, with children of working mothers spending almost 40 hours a week in such care.3
– ECE facilities often serve as homes away from home, giving ECE providers influence on the health behaviors related to obesity for our youngest children.



1. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation. Rockville, MD: DHHS, Offi ce of the Surgeon General; 2010. Available from http://ww.surgeongeneral.gov/library/obesityvision/obesityvision2010.pdf.

2. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation: A Report to the President. May 2010. Available from http://www.letsmove.gov/sites/letsmove.gov/files/TaskForce_on_Childhood_Obesity_May2010_FullReport.pdf. Accessed 2012 Feb 14.

3. Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES:2005) National Center for Education Statistics Web site. Available from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d09/tables/dt09_044.asp Accessed 2012 Feb 6.



On June 8, 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move! Child Care (LMCC)—a nationwide call to action that empowers ECE providers to instill positive health habits in children, early on, that could last a lifetime. LMCC focuses on preventing obesity through five goal areas: physical activity, screen time, food, beverages, and infant feeding. Through this web-based initiative, providers earn recognition for achieving best practices related to the goal areas. For more details see: