Since October 2012, MiM Kids New Bedford has helped over 1,000 children across five local day cares learn to eat healthier foods. Working with staff at the YMCA, Little People’s College, New Bedford Public Schools, PACE, and NorthStar Learning Center, Mass in Motion Kids New Bedford has helped staff encourage parents and children to eat healthier throughout the day and get more physical activity.
It’s almost impossible to watch the news or read the paper today without seeing a story about the negative effects of obesity and its increase among children. In Massachusetts, 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese, often leading to a lifetime of disabling and costly chronic disease and other ailments. Helping reshape children’s eating and physical activity habits at a young age goes a long way in preventing disease as they age.
Using the NAP SACC program and guidelines, day care centers received a trained mentor who assisted them in the 5-step process of assessing their current food options, creating a plan of action, implementing that plan, gaining further training, and then staying the course. Along with this program, the mentors also trained staff in a proactive curriculum used to address childhood obesity, called I am Moving, I am Learning.
Shari Pacheco, from Little People’s College (LPC) in New Bedford says the plan was simple to implement. As a “direct result” of the initial assessment, Shari says they greatly decreased the amount of juice they were serving to children throughout the day, a huge success because LPC cares for over 500 children a day (ranging in age from 4 weeks to 5 years old) during the week at six locations, between the hours of 6:30am and 5:30pm – serving breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack to many of the children.
As a result of this program, LPC also serves more fresh fruit, produce, and beans and has reduced sugary snacks. “We’ve tried to educate the teachers so they’re more aware, and we try to cook with the kids every other week as a part of the curriculum,” says Shari. LPC also works to tie healthy snacks into the curriculum; for example, this spring they served “ants on a log” while the children learned about spring. If the children aren’t enthusiastic about a new food, the cooks will modify it the next time and try again. (Research shows that you need to introduce children to a new food sometimes 20 times before they’ll eat it regularly.)
Another major change LPC implemented was encouraging the children to drink water. Shari says before kids could get water if they wanted, but now the teachers are intentional about offering water throughout the day to ensure kids stay hydrated.
Jodilynn Machado, program director at YMCA Child Care in New Bedford agrees that the guidelines were simple to implement and extremely helpful, “Within a few months we slowly started seeing a change.”
The YMCA in New Bedford takes care of 35 children between the ages of 2.9 and 5—parents pack all of their lunches, so staff told parents to take baby steps and not feel overwhelmed. “We can’t force them, we can only encourage them,” says Jodilynn. But parents are interested, she goes on, “We had a parent give us the Weelicious website to share [recipes] with other parents.” They gave parents a presentation at family info night, and gave them information on types of food they could buy that aren’t too expensive and still healthy.
They also engage the children in all of the changes, reading them stories about health, getting them to try out new foods, learning about the “veggie of the month,” and encouraging them to eat their healthy foods first before any junk. The whole experience has even helped staff start eating healthier.
Although parents are responsible for their children’s lunches, the YMCA provides the kids with snacks while they’re there, so they have transitioned to fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. They too made the switch, getting rid of juice and only serving water. They also added a nutrition policy into their handbook.
Although in the beginning stages of evaluating the program’s reach, at a base level Mass in Motion Kids has reached over 1,000 children, all of their parents, and numerous staff at each day care. The Mass in Motion Kids grant ends this fall, but is actively seeking additional funding to bring this program to additional day cares throughout the city.
Mass in Motion Kids (MiM) is a partnership and research project between the cities of Fitchburg and New Bedford, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Harvard University, and the National Initiative for Children’s Health Care Quality. Its focus is on helping kids and their families reach five specific goals, which include switching from sugary drinks to water, watching no more than two hours of screen time each day, getting at least one hour of physical activity, replacing sugary, salty, fried and fast foods with fruits and vegetables, and sleeping at least 10-11 hours per day. The main goal is to reduce childhood obesity in children 2-12 by implementing specific interventions in multiple sectors (health care, childcare, schools, after-schools and community), improving systems and engaging the community.
UPDATE: In fall 2014, we received Gold and Silver Medals from the National League of Cities partnership with Let’s Move! “for integrating each of the five goals of Let’s Move! Child Care into at least one professional development training offered annually to early care and education providers; plus meeting Bronze and Silver benchmarks.” You can learn more about the program by clicking here.