by Lauri Choate, Director of Wellness Initiatives, Child Care Aware of Missouri
Vivian Collins owns a family child care programs in St. Louis County. She sees the problems of early childhood obesity each day. Children are too often more interested in playing with electronics than being outside playing with each other. And convenience foods, such as chicken nuggets and tater tots, have replaced less processed meals. Family meal time has become food on the run in the car on the way to or from something.
Thirteen percent of Missouri’s preschoolers are considered to be obese, ranking the state 36th in the nation for its childhood obesity rate. According to the Mayo Clinic, children who are obese are above the normal weight for their age and height. This extra weight can often start children on the path to health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Unless habits are changed, many obese children may exhibit signs of these conditions before adulthood or become obese adults with the same health issues.
One of the best strategies to reduce childhood obesity is to improve the eating and physical activity habits of children and their families. With children in child care for long periods each week, child care programs become important influencers on healthy habits. Child care centers and family child care programs can be a great support to families in creating healthier environments and daily practices.
Taking Steps to Healthy Success-Missouri
Taking Steps to Healthy Success-Missouri (TSHS-MO) focuses on raising awareness about the early childhood obesity epidemic by working directly with child care programs. To make a positive impact on children, and their families, TSHS-MO supports child care programs in changing their daily practices by increasing physical activity, access to more fruits and vegetables, encouraging breastfeeding, and reducing screen time. Child care programs create policies to cement these changes and put children on a path to healthy success.
Built on an early childhood early learning collaborative model, TSHS-MO combines increased knowledge with personalized application to change child care program practices. Through monthly learning sessions, we present new content around healthy practice and nutrition. Technical assistance is provided to assist child care programs identify areas of change and implement new practices. Our coaches work directly with the programs to overcome challenges, try new approaches and create lasting change.
Child Care Aware® of Missouri began Taking Steps to Healthy Success-MO in 2013 as part of a six-year grant funded by the Centers of Disease Control and administered through Nemours. Serving 210 child care programs across the state, more than 2100 children were positively affected through healthy changes in nutrition and physical activity. TSHS-MO has continued to grow through funding from both the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Bureau of Community Wellness and Missouri Foundation for Health’s Healthy Schools Healthy Communities initiative.
Healthy changes in the lives of children directly influence the choices and habits at home. By teaching children about healthy practices, families gain too. Through TSHS- MO, we have seen families add physical activities to their daily routines, cut back on- screen time and add more fresh foods and healthy snacks.
Child Care Aware® of Missouri is currently partnering with Missouri Foundation for Health’s Healthy Schools Healthy Communities initiative through a two-year grant to support 42 child care centers and family programs as they increase health and wellness within their programs. To date, we have seen changes in practice and policy for support for breastfeeding families, increased daily physical activity, inside and out, serving more fresh fruits and vegetables at mealtime, and an increase in staff wellness.
Through participation in TSHS-MO, Vivian Collins has increased physical activity to at least 60 – 90 minutes a day for all children, created an indoor and outdoor garden and has introduced yoga to reduce stress and increase positive mood. She has even begun a walking group in her neighborhood of other family child care programs. These changes yield positive results for the children, child care educators and families.
Child Care Aware® of Missouri continues to improve health and wellness practices in child care programs through the impact participants make through TSHS-MO.