Lessons of health, wellness follow children through their lives. Teaching children how to make healthy choices, introducing them to healthy foods, and providing them with opportunities to be active is just as important to a child’s development as teaching them to read and introducing them to new words.
Durham, North Carolina, August 2012 - Childhood obesity is a worrisome problem in the United States. Nearly 10 percent of infants and toddlers have excess weight and almost a third of children are overweight or obese. Research tells us that excessive weight gain in infants and toddlers is more likely to lead to overweight children. Evidence also indicates that for children under the age of 6 with a high Body Mass Index (BMI), adult obesity is likely to follow. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, only 4 percent of elementary schools nationwide offer physical education daily.
The threat of long-term chronic and serious health-related issues aside, childhood obesity impacts school performance and outcomes, including increased school absences, repeating a grade, or lack of academic engagement. That fact should be reason enough to turn parents and early childhood educators into advocates for childhood obesity prevention.
Recently, Durham’s Partnership for Children (the Partnership) participated in the Great Human Race, asking supporters to donate funds to the cause of obesity prevention. With the fundraising dollars collected from generous donors and advocates in prevention, health and wellness equipment were bought to distribute to a dozen childcare centres across Durham.
Some of the new items included gardening equipment and rain barrels, athletic balls, jump ropes and hula hoops. Community members and Partnership staff assisted in enhancing health and wellness practices at these centres.
Among the operation requirements within the childcare setting that are regulated by the state – including staff-child ratios, building and space requirements, and sanitation requirements – are health-related activities.
The Division of Child Development and Early Education of the Department of Health and Human Services sets these regulations and ensures our childcare facilities are physically safe and have healthy environments. Childcare settings are required – at a minimum – to provide nutritious meals and snacks at least once every four hours, no less than one hour daily outdoor time, and space and time for rest, as well as limit screen time.
“Nutrition and children being active is a focus area for Child Care Services Association (CCSA),” said Monnie Griggs, Technical Assistance Director at CCSA. Child Care Services Association is one of a number of funded partners of the Partnership, offering programming in early care and education to childcare centres across Durham and Orange County.
“Teaching children how to make healthy choices, introducing them to healthy foods, and providing them with opportunities to be active is just as important to a child’s development as teaching them to read and introducing them to new words,” Griggs explained. “These lessons will follow them through their lives and play an important role in their future success in school and life.”
As part of the Partnership’s Docs for Tots North Carolina Initiative and Duke’s Healthy Lifestyles for Children Programme, paediatric residents connect with Durham County preschoolers during 30-minute lessons twice monthly to teach nutrition and wellness instruction tailored for 4-year-olds. The children are able to participate in physical activity and learn about healthy eating from medical professionals.
Centres that include gardens in their outdoor environments are able to provide hands-on, project-based instruction to children about the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables and the physical opportunity to care and maintain a garden. As new foods are introduced to children, the teacher is able to make connections: “This squash is just like what we are growing in our garden.” Or better yet, “This is the squash we grew and picked. Who wants to taste it?”
“I think that the centres that do this well also make an effort to involve families,” Griggs explained. “If families can reinforce the same lessons at home about the importance of trying new foods and being active it helps to provide a consistent message for the children.”
Children witness teachable moments everywhere they go – their home, their school, their church, even the grocery store. When the message of health and wellness is modelled and reinforced to children from an entire community that places emphasis on the issue of wellbeing, all of our young children benefit.
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