Healthy Habits for Life Initiative Expanding to 14 New Local Child Care Centers

Nemours’ Healthy Habits for Life: a Child Care Obesity Prevention initiative, which already has touched the lives of some 665 preschoolers in 14 child care centers in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville, is expanding into 14 additional local centers over the next year.

The Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF), through its Children & Youth Work Group (CYWG), has approved a new grant of $90,000 to Nemours for phase two of the program which will build on the activities, successes and lessons learned during the phase one pilot program that ended June 30. Nemours is providing another $61,287 in in-kind materials and resources for phase two of the project.

Child care centers for phase two are being selected with assistance from the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, as they were in phase one.

Phase one child care center directors and staff gathered to celebrate the successful completion of the first phase with Nemours program officials and partners on June 20 at the Winter Park Community Center. According to Nemours staff, 82 providers and 665 youngsters in child care centers in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville have been learning all about the dos and don’ts of healthy living during the phase one pilot, supported by a $50,000 grant from WPHF, awarded in 2011 through the CYWG.

They’ve learned about the difference between “Sometimes” and “Anytime” foods. “Anytime” foods are those good to eat anytime—like fruits and vegetables, while “Sometimes” foods are those best eaten sparingly like desserts and soda. And they’ve also learned about the importance and joy of physical activity.

Each of the participating child care centers also developed a wellness policy to guide health and wellness activities, and to help insure continuing improvements in the health culture of the center. At the June 20 celebration, directors received poster size copies of their wellness policies, ready for display at their centers.

Support for the Nemours program was a natural extension of the work already being supported by the Foundation in public schools in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville. In the belief that Healthy Kids Make Better Students and Better Students Make Healthy Communities, the WPHF has since 2000 supported the Coordinated Youth Initiative (CYI) — a collection of school-based health services designed to bolster the health of the whole child and remove barriers to learning.

The free programs include CHILL (Community Help and Intervention in Life’s Lessons) which provides mental health counseling, the School Nursing Initiative, School-Based Health Centers, and Healthy School Teams.

Programs are offered in 12 schools impacting approximately 11,000 youth in grades K-12—from Winter Park High School and its elementary and middle feeder schools—but WPHF hoped to find a way to reach children before they enter kindergarten.

“Research shows the earlier you can instill healthy habits in children, the better; so it makes sense to reach out to children and their families through child care centers,” said Debbie Watson, WPHF Vice President.

The program offered by Nemours has made that possible. The participating child care centers channel students into the same schools receiving CYI programs and services.

Nemours’ Child Care Obesity Prevention initiative focuses on getting kids moving, reducing screen time, making nutrition fun, offering healthier beverages, and supporting infant feeding choices. In keeping with other WPHF efforts focused on “making the healthy choice the easy choice,” an additional objective of the partnership with Nemours is to promote the establishment of wellness policies within child care centers.

Child care center directors and staff have been trained on the Nemours 5-2-1- Almost None formula for a healthy lifestyle and use of the Healthy Habits for Life Child Care Resource Kit created in partnership with Sesame Street. It teaches children about eating right and staying physically active. Nemours supplied curriculum and wellness policy materials for use by child care professionals as well as educational resources for children and their families.

Volunteers also were trained so they can go into the child care centers to help teach classes and activities and to help staff establish healthful policies. During the first phase, volunteers contributed more than 130 hours of assistance to child care centers. They were recruited through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), higher learning institutions and the community.

During phase two, in addition to adding 14 new sites that have children who matriculate into the eight elementary schools with CYI programs, the Nemours program will continue to assist the original 14 sites in monitoring and evaluation of their wellness policy implementation. For phase two Nemours also has developed new materials including a booklet requested by providers, called “Eating Healthy on a Budget,” that can be distributed to families with children enrolled in the project child care sites.

Phase two also will include the addition of sleep as an important part of obesity prevention and brain development supporting the goals of the WPHF Brain Health initiative. “Together, healthy eating, physical activity and sleep play an integral role in preventing childhood obesity as well as fostering school readiness,” the Nemours grant proposal explained.

Parent engagement will also be an important part of this phase. Workshops will be held in all three communities to introduce parents to the Nemours formula for a healthy lifestyle and to make sure parents understand sleep is important to school readiness.

Once the 28 centers are reached during the first two phases, the program will have reached at least two thirds of all child care centers serving children from Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville.