Parents and providers agree: children under five benefit from healthy food, active play, and limited screen time. Despite this agreement, there are no minimum uniform standards that govern the activities and nutrition of children in early childhood programs across the US. This means that there is no guarantee that the 60% of children who spend the majority of their day in these programs are getting the chance for a fresh start at building a healthy lifestyle at an early age.
Luckily, some states and communities are discussing policies that would fill this gap. We know that children should avoid sugary drinks like fruit drinks, sports drinks, soda, and sweetened waters, so we should be sure that healthier alternatives are offered at all early care and education programs. In addition, children should have access to healthy meals and snacks full of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Early childhood programs can also be places where preschoolers form healthy habits related to a physically active lifestyle. Studies show that physical activity patterns developed during childhood tend to last through adulthood. With this in mind, providers should ensure children get at least one hour of active play every day. In fact, preschoolers should not be sedentary for more than an hour at a time, except when sleeping. This will help them reach their developmental milestones and set them up to achieve a healthy weight.
Lastly, more and more parents are concerned with the amount of time their children spend in front of a screen, and for good reason. Studies show that excessive screen time can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. Through limiting screen time, early childcare programs can be places where children engage in active play and learn important social skills while interacting with other children and caregivers.
Together, by encouraging our childcare and community leaders to adopt minimum guidelines, we can help children be physically active, develop their minds, and form healthy nutrition habits. That’s something we can all get behind.