In the battle taking place in America to end childhood obesity, day care centers can be seen as the front lines. For children who spend large parts of their day in childcare facilities, the setting can either be a place to develop good practices or to fall into unhealthy exercise or eating habits.
Obesity is seen as the next major health epidemic facing the United States, with more than one-third of adults falling in the obese range and 17 percent of children. All levels of government, from the White House down to city and town levels, are advocating for good food and exercise habits to be taught at an early age. This would head off the incidence of obesity later in life and ultimately drive down healthcare costs.
The USDA publishes guidelines for food programs for children, one that follows the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in recommending plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The guidelines recommend avoiding high sugar and high fat foods, which not only cause obesity but can reduce the energy level needed for activities. Meal times should be given special care, with children being encouraged to eat slowly and food not used as a punishment or reward.
But diet is only a small part of the mix, and activities these centers plan for children can be used to promote health living. Physical activity is an important way to maintain a health weight, and young children need at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Music is seen as a great way to promote this activity, as it can encourage dance and other motor muscle activities like jumping, marching and running. Toys should also be selected to promote physical activity, emphasizing balls, hula hoops, cardboard boxes and even bubbles.
Child care centers can also use their activity time as a chance to give lessons on healthy living and nutrition. Some government agencies, like the New York State Department of Health, recommend that staff members at childcare facilities receive training on nutrition and food service, so they can impart this knowledge to children and promote healthy behaviors.