The habits children learn in their earliest years stay with them for a lifetime. All of the adults in a child’s life have the power to be healthy role models, but they need tools and information in order to do so. Second to parents and families, early care and education (ECE) providers have a huge influence over what millions of young children eat and how they play. In San Diego County, Calif., ECE providers are stepping up to create healthier early learning environments that promote healthy habits.
Since 2014, more than 170 ECE providers have been named Wellness Champions by the YMCA Childcare Resource Service. These providers are healthy habit role models for the children and families they serve. Wellness Champions go above and beyond minimum standards for health and safety to make sure that they are giving children the healthiest start possible.
Being a Wellness Champion means:
- Participating in training on nutrition, physical activity, screen time and sugary drinks;
- Conducting a self-assessment of current health and wellness policies and practices; and
- Working with a YMCA Health Educator to set goals that make their ECE program healthier.
One-on-one technical assistance from a Health Educator helps the provider meet their goals—and gets them closer to meeting best practices. These practices are based on the 5-2-1-0 Principles: Five fruits and vegetables per day, two hours or less of screen time, one hour or more of active play and zero sugary drinks.
A 2018 evaluation shows that these supports work! Compared to providers that had never participated in the program, Wellness Champions were more likely to follow most of the nutrition, screen time, physical activity and sugary drink best practices. In fact, 88 percent of Wellness Champions give preschoolers less than one hour per day of recreational screen time and 96 percent said they never serve sugary drinks to children.
The evaluation shows that the program helps parents too. In nearly every 5-2-1-0 category, parents whose children attended Wellness Champion providers were more likely to follow the best practices. One hundred percent of Wellness Champion parents said they never served juice to infants, and more than nine out of 10 said they never used food as a reward or punishment. Wellness Champions do not have to teach parents about the 5-2-1-0 Principles, but parents seem to be learning them.
As we think about what it will take to create a healthier future, it’s clear that ECE providers have a crucial role to play. We need to make sure that every ECE provider has access to programs like Wellness Champions. To learn more about how Voices for Healthy Kids can help you advocate for healthier child care, visit https://voicesforhealthykids.org/grant-opportunities/.