In the belief it is never too early to plant the seeds for a lifetime of healthy habits, the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) has been working with the Nemours Florida Prevention Initiative for the past three years to begin instilling healthy habits among two-, three- and four-year-olds in local child care centers.
A fourth and final phase is now underway, supported in part by an $80,000 grant from WPHF.
The program, Nemours Healthy Habits for Life: A Child Care Obesity Prevention Initiative, involves 30 child care centers in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville. Under the program, center directors and staff members were trained in the Healthy Habits for Life Resource Kit including curriculum and games to teach and help reinforce healthy eating and exercise habits with children and their families.
Centers also received technical assistance and help in developing wellness policies to help support healthy habits—ranging from sleep, and nutrition to activity and drinking water—and to create a culture of good health in the centers.
Participating child care centers are those with students who go on to attend public elementary schools in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville which already have a collection of health and wellness programs in place, also supported in part by WPHF.
The goal behind both programs is to ensure students are healthy—today and in the future–and able to do their academic best in school.
Program evaluations have shown the initiative is having an impact. Child care centers are successfully implementing wellness policies and children are learning to correctly identify the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods.
Building on this success, the program will begin pulling together directors and staff on a regular basis to share ideas and problem-solving tactics. The first learning session will be held in late January at All Saints Episcopal Church—which has a preschool included in the initiative. Other sessions will follow throughout the year focusing on nutrition education and food/beverage practices; physical activity; education and screen time, as well as other program-based activities and an open hot topics session.
Child care center staff members also are going to be given the chance to sign up to speak to the group on challenges they’ve been able to overcome and best practices they have in place, according to Kelly Rogers, MPH, Program Manager for the Nemours Florida Prevention Initiative.
And, to make sure healthy habits learned in pre-school carry over into kindergarten and beyond, Nemours will work with Healthy School Team Leaders at each of the 12 local public schools the pre-school children are likely to attend to find ways to promote healthy messages in terms familiar to the young children.
“It has been our hope from day one the child care center programs would complement and build on the free, school-based health and wellness services we launched in 12 local schools in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville beginning in 1998,” said Debbie Watson, WPHF Vice President. “The services, offered in collaboration with the schools, are part of the Coordinated Youth Initiative, and are designed to help students be healthy and ready to learn.”
“We continue to believe that helping these children develop healthy habits in early life will make a huge difference in their long term health and happiness. Nothing could be more important.”