Over one third of American children are overweight or obese. We’ve heard this for so long; the statement has almost lost its impact.
But really – one third?
Not only are overweight children more likely to feel bad about themselves, but they may well be on a path of on-going over-weight and diminished health.
Won’t Young Children “Outgrow” Being Overweight?
Some young children DO grow up and out of being overweight. But not all. Children who are overweight are more likely to be overweight adults. That means one third of our children are more likely to develop diabetes, liver and heart disease, asthma, cancer, sleep apnea, joint problems, and other health conditions.
What Causes Children To Be Overweight?
In addition to larger portion sizes, more processed and high calorie foods – changes in children’s snacking patterns contribute to the hefting of the nation’s children.
This is a short blog, so let’s look at one factor – the snacking – and what caring adults can do to protect children’s health. [ more… ]
The 6th Annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day was a great mix of moving, reading, experimenting, and learning! Early childhood programs around the country and in Bermuda danced, ran, tried new foods, read books, and played games.
In DeWitt Michigan, at Capital Area Community Services Head Start, Jessie Nevius sent this report: “Our kids enjoyed celebrating being healthy with Al! We read the story Al’s Healthy Choices and did Al’s Action Story. We used the book to have a discussion about healthy foods and healthy activities. We worked hard to complete Al’s healthy food maze.”
The students at Lyceum Preschool in Bermuda enjoyed an interactive read-aloud by Mrs. Shavana Wilson. After doing about twenty minutes of exercise, students were given a healthy snack of fresh fruit kabobs and peanut butter and jelly rice cakes. Mrs. Kimwana Eve also presented all the students with their own Al’s Pals t-shirts and water bottles.
Debbie Miller’s class at Maymont School in Richmond Virginia read Al’s Healthy Choices and talked about their favorite healthy food and how they stay active. Then they had a tasting party with cauliflower, snap peas, mango, red pepper, cara cara orange, and starfruit. Most were a big hit, but the starfruit was not very popular! Everyone was adventurous and willing to try new foods.
In Arkansas, at the North Little Rock School District, Whitney Addie’s class celebrated Healthy Al, Healthy Me all week and tried different fruits and vegetables. The overall favorite was strawberries. After talking about how they grew and what they looked and tasted like, the children did a still-life drawing. Each child was excited about trying so many different fruits and veggies.
Angelette Pryor at Shady Grove Y in Richmond Virginia reports that Al was as popular as ever during the YMCA Healthy Kids Day. At the Al’s Pals station kids made Al hats. This station is a calm spot among the busy, noisy stations. Several kids came to the calm down spot which had big pillows on a small rug with the Calm Down and Problem-solving posters there. They had current Al’s Pals kids stop by as well as those who remembered Al from previous years.
The Grasshopper Class at St. James Child Development Center in Richmond Virginia did yoga poses and danced. The celebration fit right in with their focus for the month of April: exercise!
Ruby Allen’s STEPS Head Start class in Charlotte Courthouse Virginia joined the celebration by having the children choose their favorite fruits and decorating them. The teachers used the fruits from the dramatic play center to continue the discussion of their favorites. They all enjoyed the celebration and had such fun – they can’t wait until next year!
At Michelle’s Playland in Suffolk Virginia, they started their day with a discussion on the importance of healthy habits and taking care of their bodies. They exercised and danced to “Shakin’ It” by Paragraph Express. They read Al’s Healthy Choices – a couple of times! Their healthy morning snack was apples, cheese and crackers, and water. They were talking about butterflies that week, so their physical activity was moving like butterflies. That afternoon, their outdoor activity was to run races.
So it was another great Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day! And remember that all the resources for these and other activities are always available here.
Teachers and children from around the country and in Bermuda went all out for the 5th annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day!
At Lowell Elementary School in Watertown MA, they had a wonderful celebration complete with fruit kabobs, hummus with carrots and cucumbers, dancing, and even selfies with Al. The children recorded their tasting preferences on this form. They added, “Can’t wait for next year!”
At the Child and Family Network Center in Alexandria VA, children made fruit kabobs, too, creating a pattern using strawberries, bananas, and blueberries. They talked about the importance of eating foods that keep their bodies healthy and strong!
Children at the Catholic Diocese of Evansville IN made Healthy Al hats, played Al Says, read the Al Story, played the rolling dice exercise game, colored on the sheet where they picked fruit for their salad, and completed the maze.
In Richmond VA at the Partnership for Families, we read Al’s Healthy Choices and did Al’s Action Story. It was great fun acting out all of Al’s movements like looking under the bed!
Down at the Corrigan-Camden School District in Corrigan TX, the pre-K classes made a day of it! The Food Service Director presented a short program on healthy breakfast choices. Each child got a chef hat, a cup of yogurt, and blueberries, strawberries, dried cranberries, and graham crackers. Then they created their own healthy parfait. For their outdoor activities, each class planned a game including a ball relay race. Parents attended and participated in the events. Even their principal joined the fun and played games with the children.
In Wytheville VA, children celebrated by playing duck, duck, goose and having races. They had a healthy lunch of turkey and cheese roll ups, salad, and sliced apples. They talked about the importance of drinking water and enjoyed water that was flavored with fresh strawberries!
Meanwhile in Little Rock AR, there was a tasting party going on at Glenview Elementary School. They tried different fruits and vegetables and made a chart of which were their favorites. They also sent home parent notes about Less Screen Time, More Play Time and Healthy Eating. The students enjoyed dancing and exercising and talked about how this helps them to grow and be strong.
Children in several states, Bermuda, and Canada recently celebrated Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day in grand style! Here are some highlights:
Fairyland family child care in Sandy, Utah made fruit smoothies and whole wheat french toast and egg kabobs for breakfast. Then they had a whole wheat tortilla feast for lunch! Beautiful and nutritious!
Children all got involved in special cooking activities at St. James Child Development Center in Richmond, Virginia. They also decorated hats and did yoga! The teachers said they enjoyed the day as much as the children did.
In Bermuda, children decorated their Healthy Al hats and wore their Al’s Pals tee shirts. They used a beautiful array of fresh fruit to make fruit kabobs, and sang “I’m a Healthy Child.”
Being active was a big part of the morning for children at the Childhood Early Enrichment Program in Lenore, Idaho. They talked about the importance of exercising and did a scarf dance and bean bag throw to prove it can be fun. They also had a healthy food tasting party and recorded their preferences (find the form here).
At St. Andrews School in Richmond, Virginia, children loved hearing the Al’s Healthy Choices book and made veggie faces. They really enjoyed eating the vegetables afterward!
At the Huron-Superior Catholic School District in Sault Ste Marie, Canada children had a ‘fruit extravaganza’, played games, and even the superintendent came by to join the fun! Only disappointment – their pictures got deleted!
Strawberry picking was the first activity for children in Sau’nia Kay’s family child care in New Bern, North Carolina. They took the strawberries to a retirement home and worked with their friends there to make a strawberry, spinach, almond, and mandarin orange salad! What a fun and delicious inter-generational activity!
Our friends at CACS Head Start in Lansing, Michigan invited Very Important Families to join them for their special activities. They read and acted out Al’s Action Story, sang songs about being happy, and had a nutritious snack together.
Children at Michelle’s Playland in Suffolk, Virginia were moving all morning. They did some exercise routines and then finished up with lots of dancing!
At the Shady Grove Y in Richmond, they celebrated as part of Healthy Kids Day. Everyone made a Healthy Al hat and they set up a Calm Down spot where several children took a moment to chill.
Happy children and their fabulous teachers joined in the Healthy Al, Healthy Me celebration on April 23, 2015 across the country and in Canada, too.
A family child care program in New Bern, NC lead by Sau’nia Kay “had a ball!” They made salads out of cucumbers & tomatoes, with some from their own garden. They created and laminated placemats decorated with pictures of veggies and fruits. The placemats turned into a healthy version of I Spy while they ate. Finally, they took some bananas and applesauce to an assisted living facility and handed them out. The children wanted to be sure that the residents “could eat healthy, too.”
At Sunshine & Rainbows Learning Center in Joliet, Illinois, Karen Cooper and her class spent the entire day outside at a park. They hiked, played kickball and tennis, and enjoyed the fresh, brisk air. Lots of parents joined them for the day to get their dose of Vitamin N (for Nature)!
In Culpeper, Virginia, Paula Treadway’s class had a great time exercising in the gym and learning about making healthy choices. They cut out pictures and made a collage of things that are healthy. Al made a surprise visit in some of the classrooms to see what the children had learned.
Up north in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Jennifer Barone’s class participated by making Healthy Al, Healthy Me hats and parents were encouraged to get involved by bringing in a healthy snack for the class to share. The children also did lots of gross motor exercises to build strong muscles.
The children in Ana Cuenca’s family child care program in Salt Lake City, UT took advantage of many of the ideas provided for the Healthy Al, Healthy Me Celebration. They talked about good food, and used the food groups to sort healthy foods. They made a fruit salad together. They wrapped up the morning by doing yoga – a good time was had by all!
At the VCU Health System Family Care Center in Richmond, VA, Carol’s class had a full morning. They read Al’s Healthy Choices and used the lesson that comes with it. The children role played all sorts of active motions like bouncing a ball or running. Then they made veggie people and told stories about their creations. They finished up by eating lots of yummy vegetables and deciding which they liked best.
Dorothy Weinzapfel at St. Phillip School in Evansville, IN appreciated the opportunity because she likes “being proactive in teaching children how to be healthy, cope with negative behaviors, and stay safe, rather than always reacting to the negatives.” They reviewed all the great things they have learned from Al, Keisha, and Ty this year and are planning a special healthy snack for their last week together. They want to make veggie people because it’s always fun to create something with food!
We are already looking forward to next year’s celebration! Remember, that you can have a Healthy Al, Healthy Me Celebration any time with these fun, easy-to-use resources!
Children can join others around the world squishing and splashing in the mud on June 29th celebrating International Mud Day. Experiencing the wonders of mud is a true joy of childhood. More ideas on connecting children with nature can be found in our blog, More Vitamin N for Happier, Healthier, Kinder Children.
Classrooms and family child care programs in multiple states, Canada, and Bermuda participated in this year’s Healthy Al, Healthy Me Celebration on April 3. Here is a sampling of the myriad of marvelous activities that took place that day:
In Bermuda, Romeika Brangman coordinated celebrations at Gilbert Institute and West End Primary. They read and acted out Al’s Action Story, then made and savored tasty fruit kebobs. A big thank you to Ms. Correia, Ms. Tacklyn, Ms. Taylor, and Ms. Millett for their energetic participation. They even made a video! Watch it here.
Programs throughout Virginia participated in activities such as making veggie faces, dancing, taking a walk, reading Al’s Action Story, and making collages, hats, and banners. Kudos to Vicki Mollenauer at North Richmond YMCA, Sue Blanco at Walnut Grove CDC, Michelle Freeman at Michelle’s Playland, Debbie Gillispie at Four Seasons, Sheila Thompkins at William Byrd, and Donna Hopkins at Rooftop Head Start for your enthusiastic coordination of the celebration.
In New Bern NC, Sau’nia Kay took her children to a market where they picked out fruits and vegetables for a homemade salad and snacks. They tasted and evaluated what they thought of their special purchases.
The children in Cindy Zappascosta’s class in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario had a visit from Al, Ty, and Keisha. They sang, danced, and made healthy snacks together. Then they graphed their favorite parts of their snack.
Grand River EHS, part of Capital Area Community Services in Lansing MI spent all week talking about staying active and being healthy. Julie Shea and Faye Phillips led the children in yoga, had bean bag tosses, started their days with morning exercises, and enjoyed a tasting party.
We are already looking forward to next year’s celebration! Remember, that you can have a Healthy Al, Healthy Me celebration any time with these great resources!
What do juice boxes, toy-fortified kid meals, chocolate-covered granola bars, and single-serving sugar-bomb cereals hawked by cartoon characters have in common? These “grab and go” foods have little nutritional value and are directly marketed to young children. Many parents appreciate quick, easy foods children will eat without a fuss.
Unfortunately, while convenient, this kind of sugary, junky food is one culprit contributing to today’s childhood obesity predicament.
Other factors include: not enough fruits and vegetables, too many sugar-sweetened drinks, too much sedentary time in front of TV and other media, and not enough physical activity.
Won’t Most Children “Grow Out Of” Childhood Obesity?
Twenty-three million (one in three) American children are overweight or obese. We used to believe that overweight children had “baby fat” they would naturally grow out of. We now know that when a young child becomes overweight or obese it is usually very difficult for them to reach and maintain a normal weight. Half of all children who are obese at age six will be obese in adulthood, continuing to face health and other challenges.
According to Robert Wood Johnson’s childhood obesity researchers, today’s children could be the first generation to “live sicker and die younger” than their parents because of childhood obesity.
Overweight or obese children are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems in their childhood years and in adulthood. They feel more stressed and anxious than healthy-weight peers and miss more school.
Early Childhood May Be Key To Preventing Obesity
Many health experts believe that teaching and establishing healthy habits in early childhood holds tremendous promise for reversing the epidemic of obesity. After all, it is easier to initiate good habits than to turn around bad ones!
Important environmental changes that support children’s pathway to healthy weight have emerged in the past few years – like updated USDA nutrition standards for school lunches and snacks, and restrictions on marketing junk food to children.
Many schools, child care settings, and families work hard to provide children healthier food, more opportunities for active play, and limited screen time.
Young Children Develop A Foundation of Healthy Habits
Environmental changes are important, but not enough. Children benefit when they learn to take care of their bodies and make healthy choices.
The 5-2-1-0 Model, recommended by medical experts, provides clear guidelines for teaching children daily habits that promote health and prevent overweight and obesity.
5 – fruits and vegetables
2 – hours or less of screen time (TV, computer, tablets, smart phones, etc.)
1 – hour or more of physical activity
0 – sugar-sweetened drinks
How Can 5-2-1-0 Help Young Children?
The 5-2-1-0 concepts are concrete and specific enough to be taught to young children. Unlike complicated information about proteins, carbohydrates, calories, or food groups, young children “get” that fruits and vegetables are healthy choices! They can understand that screen time is a quiet, stay-still activity, and that children’s bodies get strong through active, run-around play time.
Teaching children to make positive choices every day that align with 5-2-10 practices creates a foundation of healthier habits that can promote good health over their lifetime.
5-2-1-0 Practices and Healthy Choices For Children
5 Fruits & Veggies
Many younger children eat fruits and vegetables. However, as children get older, most eat fewer fruits and vegetables and consume more salty, sugary, fatty foods. By the teen years and adulthood, few Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Guiding young children to eat five fruits and vegetables each day – including for snack time– can develop the habit of consciously choosing nutritious foods over less healthy, junk foods.
Teach children that eating fruits and vegetables will help them be strong and healthy. For ideas about creating fun, healthy snacks for young children, click here.
2 Hours or Less of Screen Time
Despite years of recommendations by pediatricians to limit children’s screen time, American children are clocking up many hours on TV and other media in their homes. Out and about, young children can be found tapping and scrolling on hand-held devices – in grocery carts, car seats, at restaurants, you name it. The amount of time spent with screens only increases as children get older. Screen time is largely sedentary, and replaces more active and creative play that children are likely to pursue when no screens are available.
Teach children that too much TV and other screen time is not a healthy choice, and that growing bodies need to move around. For a reproducible parent note about the importance of limiting screen time, click here.
1 Hour of Exercise
Most American children get less than half the recommended amount of daily physical activity. Healthy bodies need the muscle development and raised heart rate that comes when children run, jump, dance, and just play. Providing plenty of time and space for active play for young children can establish a habit of exercise that leads to more fit teens and adults.
Teach children that active play is not only FUN, but it makes their heart healthy and muscles strong! For suggestions about lively, active ways children can play click here.
0 Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Juice
More than sweet treats like cookies or candy, sweetened drinks are the largest source of added sugar in children’s diets. Offering almost no nutritional value, sweetened drinks often replace actual food for children. Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is considered a key contributor to weight issues. Even 100% juice – long seen as healthy for children – has the same amount of sugar as soda. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “no more than 4-6 ounces of 100% juice daily.” Many physicians go so far as to say that even 100% juice is not a necessary part of a healthy diet for children. Actual fruit is a more nutritious choice.
Teach children that water and milk are “anytime” drinks that are good for their bodies. To see some lively Pinterest suggestions for encouraging children to drink more water, click here.
Adults Can Help Young Children Get A Healthy Start
Teaching children what they need to know, in fun and age-appropriate ways, equips them to create a brighter future. Adults CAN make a difference in preventing childhood obesity. Starting in the early years is key.
AcornDreams Healthy Choices Resources
The following easy-to-use tools align with 5-2-1-0 guidelines and can help equip you to teach young children about making healthy choices and recognize them when they do.