When faced with an epidemic, adults mobilize! We gather information, brainstorm possible solutions, confer with experts. We hear daily that there is an epidemic of obesity facing the United States, but what are we doing about it? The media tells us of the problems caused by overweight and obesity. Doctors tell us we need to lose weight. Nutritionists tell us we need to eat healthy food. We are told the bad news and what we need to do, but including our children in the solution is important. If adults are struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle, what is happening with our children? In 2006, one out of every 6 third graders in Ohio was affected by obesity, and by age 5, children have developed a positive or negative body image. But, there is good news out there, and easy steps one can take to increase the lifelong health of a child.
Early childhood educators are responsible for much of what is consumed by young children, and it’s important that they stay informed. When parents were surveyed regarding who they turn to with questions regarding child development, child care providers were in the top 3. Children can be in early care and education programs 10 or more hours a day. Because children admire the adults in their lives and look to them as role models, we can assist children in developing healthy habits while they are young. We can educate parents on the importance of healthy foods and activity. If parents pack lunch for their children, we can ask that they include food from each of the food groups, and supplement when they don’t.
So what can you do? Provide fresh fruit instead of fruit canned in heavy syrup – with meals and at snack time! Offer baked chicken instead of chicken nuggets. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children do not need to be offered fruit juice, so offer children water if they are thirsty and milk at meal times. Make these drinks fun! Put lemon or orange slices in water to add some flavor, or grow mint in a window bed in your classroom and put mint leaves in the water. Research has shown that if children assist in gardening, it increases their competence and confidence. Children are also more likely to try new food if they have assisted in the growing process. Herbs grow well indoors, but if you’ve got the space for it outdoors, try something like pumpkins or strawberries.
As educators, it is our responsibility to educate the whole child, which includes making sure we are providing a healthy environment and advocating for children to be in a healthy environment no matter where they are, at the program or at home.