Early childhood is a critical time for obesity prevention since that is when children are developing taste preferences and copying the healthy and unhealthy behaviors of those around them. Child care centers have a unique opportunity to promote healthy eating and physical activity for the youngsters as well as with their parents they are serving.
Overweight or obese preschool-age children have a five times greater chance in becoming overweight or obese adults. Obesity among DuPage County children age 2 to 4 years enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program was 15.1% in 2016 which was higher than the national obesity rate for the same group which was 14.5% in 2014. These statistics demonstrate the need for early, and continued, obesity intervention and prevention strategies.
The Healthy Child Care Project is designed to create healthy preschool environments for children and their families, promote healthy habits for preschool staff, children and families and ultimately impact and reduce the rate of childhood obesity. Working with the DuPage County Health Department, and using grant dollars from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Center for Disease Control and Cadence Health (now Northwestern Medicine) FORWARD DuPage and its partners have served 1,597 children from 20 different child care centers in the county since fall 2014. Activities included working with early childhood centers to complete self-assessments and implement strategies to increase physical activity and improve nutrition.
In addition to the work in early childhood centers, FORWARD DuPage is coordinating early childhood healthy lifestyle activities within the county through quarterly workgroup meetings to identify promising strategies that serve the 2-4 year population.