Yair Ariel • May-5-2016
According to the CDC, obesity in children starts even among very young children. In their measurements from 2007-2008, 10.4% of children aged 2-5 years were obese. This means parents have to be very vigilant to keep obesity rates down, but it also means that day care centers also have a responsibility. They have to make sure the children under their care don’t develop bad habits, and also educate parents about healthy choices.
To help with this, we’ve gathered six things day care centers should do to help lower the rate of obesity in children.
Juice and milk are often served as rewards, but they’re also one of the big reasons for an increase in obesity in children. Sugary drinks are the main target for most parents, but you’d be surprised how many of them don’t consider juice and milk to be fattening. Juice should always be 100% juice and only served at mealtimes. Also, they should not get more than 4-6 ounces of juice per day, including at home. Milk should be skim or 1% for children over 2 years of age, and whole milk for ages 1-2.
Of course, water is always an option. Water is always the best drink for people of any age. If children are thirsty, make sure they have access to enough water. Most children in day care can tell when they are thirsty and when they’ve had enough. It’s not until school that children learn to sneak water breaks to get away from the teacher!
Keep the sugary, salty, and fatty food away
Candy may make an excellent reward (or bribe), but it does no good for a child’s waistline. But “healthy” snacks like pretzels don’t offer a lot of nutrition and can cause weight gain in excess. Avoid snacks that are high in salt, bad fats, and high-sugar foods as they are always boosters in obesity in children.
Instead, snacks should be made from healthy things like vegetables and whole-grain bread, and should also be served in moderation. The foods offered should be a mix of different things to ensure adequate nutrition. Unfortunately for some kids, your healthy meal could be the only one they’re getting during the day. That’s why it’s so important to…
Teach nutrition to parents
New parents often have bad eating habits and need to be re-educated. Day care centers can play a big role in combating obesity in children. Have your menus posted and provide nutrition guidelines to parents. Check the children’s lunches to make sure the meals they bring meet the guidelines and talk with parents about the nutritional choices they’re making.
If parents are resisting your recommendations, there may not be much you can do. You could put your foot down and require parents to pack healthy food for their kids, but if those rules are ignored your options are few besides charging extra or denying services to the family. If a new family isn’t following the rules, try educating them first on healthy foods. They could just need a bit of a wake-up call.
Exercise is another major component of good health and fighting obesity in children, but getting children enough exercise can be a challenge in a day care setting, especially in day care facilities located in major metropolitan areas. There may not be room for a playground. Fortunately, there are forms of indoor play that can help kids run around inside without hurting themselves.
This is one of the advantages of BEAM. BEAM projector game images onto the floor where up to 15 kids at once can play using its augmented reality technology. There is no extra equipment that has to be cleaned and sanitized. Just a simple sweeping of the floor and the mess is cleaned up. We’ve had several day cares and indoor play spaces use BEAM with great success.
Teach outdoor games
One of the difficulties of today’s kids is that they habituated to screen time early. Teaching children classic outdoor games like tag can be a way to counteract this and overcome obesity in children. Encourage parents to play these games with their kids to get them away from sitting down and looking at screens all day. Screens may make a great babysitter, but they’re no good for a child’s long-term health. As a general rule, preschoolers should get 90-120 minutes of exercise every eight hours they’re awake. Toddlers should get 60-90 minutes.
If you do have outdoor games, encourage parents to leave a set of clothes to change into at the center in case of rain or mud. There should also be adequate shade for hot days. Removing barriers like these will keep children safe and clean while they play outside.
Good sleep habits
Good sleep habits are another thing that preschools and daycares can teach children. This is a major factor in reducing obesity in children. Most of us have fond memories of nap time during our kindergarten years. Much of the advice that works for adults also apply to children. Screen time before bed time often makes it hard to go to sleep, so remove television and computers from sleeping areas.
Having a pre-nap or pre-sleep routine is also good for prepping the body for sleep. These should be developed and taught to parents that are having difficulty getting their child to sleep. If you are taking care of infants, they should be put to bed while they are drowsy but not asleep so they can learn how to sleep unassisted.
With so many parents working and turning their early childhood care over to daycare centers, it’s vital that these centers take charge in establishing good habits into children and educating parents on what they need to do at home to make sure those habits stick. Good dietary habits, exercise habits, screen time control, and sleep habits are all necessary for long-term health. If we all work together, our rates of early childhood obesity should go down significantly and help to put a dent into the overall obesity epidemic.
BEAM, a technology developed by EyeClick, is an award-winning gaming solution with the ability to transform any space into a highly-immersive and engaging play area for children. BEAM uses cutting-edge projection technology that mounts to a ceiling, creating an interactive play space on any surface below. You can find BEAM in use at day cares, camps, education facilities, healthcare clinics and many other environments across the globe.
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- American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, and National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. Preventing Childhood Obesity in Early Care and Education: Selected Standards from Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards; Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs, 3rd Edition; 2010.
- National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education, University of Colorado Denver. National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education: Achieving a State of Healthy Weight: A National Assessment of Obesity Prevention Terminology in Child Care Regulations 2010. Aurora, CO; 2011.
- Institute of Medicine. Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2011.
- Position of the American Dietetic Association: Benchmarks for Nutrition in Child Care. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111:607-615.