September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month We’ve heard a lot in the past several years about the “epidemic” of childhood obesity. Recent data shows that 1 in 8 preschoolers in the U.S. are obese. Children who are obese are 5 times more likely than children of normal weigh to be obese or overweight as adults. Additionally, obese children are at higher risk for illnesses like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and even heart disease.
As child care providers, we can have a major impact in children’s health; many are with us for large parts of the day, 5 days each week. We often feed children 2 meals and 2 snacks daily, meaning that we may be responsible for nearly 50% of their weekly meals and snacks. Making sure that those meals and snacks are healthy will not only provide good nutrition, but also help teach children how to follow a healthy diet. Part of that is modeling a healthy diet ourselves, which begins with staff training on nutrition. Menu development is critical in planning healthy meals and snacks. Appropriate menus will include a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and limited fat and sugar. The USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program provides guidelines for appropriate child nutrition, including portion sizes.
We also have the children in our care long enough each day to ensure that they have the opportunity for regular physical fitness. Again, if we provide 60 minutes of physical activity for children each day, we can make sure that they get 70% of their weekly recommended exercise. Ideally, part of this activity time should be structured and some should be unstructured. Additionally, children should have limited screen time and not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, with the exception of nap time.
If you don’t already have a system in place for tracking meals and snacks and planning portion sizes, check out our Meal and Snack Planning and Consumption Worksheet.