Getting It Right from the Start
An ambitious new program is aiming to reduce childhood obesity in preschool-aged kids by helping child care centers implement practices that will enable them to become healthier environments.
Healthy Way to Grow will provide hands-on assistance, customized training, tools and resources to child care centers to help them achieve best practices in nutrition, physical activity, screen time and infant feeding. Funded by the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, the program will launch this fall in six communities, with the goal of expanding nationwide in the coming years.
The American Heart Association and nonprofit children’s health system Nemours are partnering to enact the program, and pilot efforts will center in Chicago, Denver, Rochester, N.Y., Kansas City, Kan., Northeastern Pa., and Reno, Nev.
While many childhood obesity prevention efforts in recent years have centered in schools, Healthy Way to Grow organizers argue there is a clear need to help kids and their families from birth. Birth to age 5 is a vital child development, as children begin to develop life-long cognitive behaviors and patterns for diet and physical activity. Unfortunately, more than a quarter of children ages 2 to 5 are now overweight or obese, and obese children as young as 3 can show indicators for heart disease later in life.
Since so many children under 5 take part in early and child care programs, it makes sense to work with those providers to tackle early child health, organizers say.
“Today’s children are tomorrow’s future, and our collaborative work will help to ensure that the future is a healthy one,” says Dr. Steve Daniels, professor and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Encouraging an active lifestyle at this critical early age will help prevent health programs and keep kids healthy as they develop.”
The McGowan Fund will provide the initial funding to launch the program. After three years, the fund hopes to partner with community-based groups to cover up to 50 percent of the costs in the six pilot communities, according to Sue Gin-McGowan, president of the Fund’s board of directors.
“Our goal in funding Healthy Way to Grow is to give children the opportunity to live healthier, possibility-filled lives, and leverage our inaugural support by demonstrating to other funders the powerful potential of this targeted initiative,” Gin-McGowan says.