Preschoolers Get a "Healthy Start"

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Listen up if you’ve got preschoolers because there’s more to report from Hawaii! The latest on the childhood obesity epidemic (we won’t stop hearing about this for a looong time) from the American Dietetic Association conference addresses a harsh reality that overweight kids as young as preschool are already exhibiting risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This seems almost inconceivable but recent research does reveal that overweight preschoolers are showing signs of so called ‘adult’ conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Yikes!

When our kids are at home we have a lot more control over what goes in their mouths, but what about when they’re in school? The Healthy Start program founded by Dr. Christine L. Williams from Columbia University may be part of the answer. At the conference this week she shared results of this innovative (and highly recognized) program that was tested and started in upstate New York. Dr. Williams is another big proponent of prevention and promotes that it's never too early to start teaching kids healthy habits, and preschool is prime time for healthy meal time!

Here’s a quick rundown of the program and what positives outcomes it had on the preschoolers health. Healthy Start was designed as a two pronged approach starting with food service. Because saturated fat can increase cholesterol levels in the body, it was significantly reduced in the preschoolers’ meals and snacks. The second prong focused on health education in the classroom through creative activities that the kids could really get in to. They learned about healthy habits and how to make better choices using stories and poems, games and crafts, playtime, hands-on demonstrations and so on. The preschoolers were also given lots of opportunities to practice the positive health behaviors they learned.

They were followed for one school year, and by the end of that year their total cholesterol levels went down, even for kids who hadn’t started out with high cholesterol. Not only were they eating less saturated fat at school, they’d also learned how to make better food choices. Yay!

If we can get our kids to carry healthy habits through their adult years that's going to really help lower heart disease and obesity, but we’ve got to start early! If this sounds good to you check out the Healthy Start website and see if you might want to get this program going in your local preschool. Let me know what you think of it and if it really is part of the answer.

Aloha!
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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