Healthy Choices, Healthy Kids
When St. Anne’s discovered in the 2014-15 school year that nearly 40% of the children in our Head Start programs were overweight, staff in Early Childhood Education and Food Services took action. Obesity is common in low-income families because inexpensive food tends to be high in fat, sugar, and salt. Also, healthy food can be hard to find in many low-income neighborhoods. In St. Anne’s early childhood programs, 82% of families are below the federal poverty level, making them vulnerable to obesity.
The crisis in childhood obesity is widespread. About one-third of U.S. children are overweight or obese. This percentage has doubled over the last three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control. As a result, children are being diagnosed with chronic conditions that used to be confined to adults, such as Type II diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Because childhood obesity is strongly associated with obesity in adulthood, it is crucial to encourage healthy eating habits in childhood.
St. Anne’s responded by developing a comprehensive nutrition education program. In 2015-16, St. Anne’s offered 13 different nutrition workshops to parents of children in our early childhood education programs. In the workshops, registered dieticians and St. Anne’s staff taught parents how to read food labels, shop for healthy foods, limit sugar and salt, encourage physical activity and prepare healthy snacks.
To promote healthy eating, St. Anne’s Early Learning Centers offer children nutritious meals. Stacy Stewart, director of support services in St. Anne’s Early Childhood Education program, credits Jorge Alcocer, St. Anne’s food services manager. “Jorge is really an unsung hero,” says Stacy. “He is always researching new menu options, and he and his staff present vibrant, healthy meals to our students.” The children enjoy rainbow grains, whole wheat pasta and fresh, not canned, ingredients.
The combined efforts of St. Anne’s staff and parents to encourage healthy eating are paying off. In 2015-16, the number of St. Anne’s preschoolers who were overweight decreased 15%. St. Anne’s is committed to helping children develop health habits that will last through their lives.