Preschool Teachers CAN Make a Difference In the Fight Against Childhood Obesity
A cursury Google search of "childhood obesity" brings up anywhere from 400,000 to over 1 million results, depending on how you word it.
Why? Childhood Obesity is at epidemic levels.
As a preschool teacher you CAN make a difference! It's not just a "home" issue.
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month And March is National Nutrition Month However....
We, as preschool teachers, should consider teaching, modeling and promoting health and wellness in our classrooms every month for the children and for families.
I've mentioned Peggy Kelly often throughout this website. She was (and is!) an amazing mentor. She was the director of a preschool program where I had the honor to work for and learn from her.
She has written an informative article about childhood obesity with a focus specifically on preschoolers and how you, as a preschool teacher, can make a difference.
You'll find many tips and helpful steps you can take today throughout the article as well as at the end of this post.
Obesity-Fighting, Health-Promoting Warrior
Kelly, CHHC, AADP
I am on a wellness mission and I need your help.
This mission is near and dear to my heart, and I think you’ll agree that it is a very worthy undertaking.
There’s an epidemic all around us. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years!
Obesity in children ages 6-11 years in the U.S. increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Adolescents (ages 12-19) who were obese increased from 5% to almost 21% during that time period. Yikes!
The CDC states that in 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is truly at epidemic proportions. So what can we do?
Before attempting to answer that question, let me give you some good news (followed by some alarming information):
On February 26, 2014, the CDC reported that the obesity rate among 2-5 year olds dropped by almost half in the U.S. over the past decade.
About 8 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds were obese in 2012, down from 14 percent in 2004. This is significant because the report suggests a new wave of Americans may avoid the risk of heart disease and diabetes which are both linked to being severely overweight. (I would venture to say that they’ll avoid the risks only if they have adopted and maintained healthy habits.) It’s hopeful though.
Now For The Alarming Information:
Below are the health concerns associated with obesity that kids are dealing with:
Cardiovascular disease – (high cholesterol, high blood pressure) 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease!
Bone and joint problems
Social and psychological problems – such as poor self-esteem
Longer term health effects include:
Type 2 diabetes
Cancer (breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple types of myeloma and Hodgkins’ lymphoma)
Was your sigh as heavy as mine after reading that list?
Remember how we used to associate these health conditions with being elderly? It wasn’t surprising when we’d hear that 80-year old Granny has heart disease.
However, it is astounding to know that adolescents can have cardiovascular disease or that 10-year olds have type 2 diabetes!
What will their future hold? Probably lots of medications, doctor visits, hospital stays, and most likely, a shorter life span. (Sigh.)
Back to the question: What can we do to help?
More specifically, how can preschool teachers become ‘Obesity-Fighting, Health Promoting Warriors’?
I know you have a limited amount of time with your preschoolers. Heck, you may even have your own wellness struggles that you’re dealing with.
I assure you, YOU can have a positive impact here and make a difference! Below are some ideas and strategies for doing your part to eradicate childhood obesity and becoming an OFHP Warrior.
Be a Role Model – Drink water in the classroom instead of soda or coffee. Eat healthy, nutrition foods. Have conversations with kids (and parents/caregivers) about nutrition and how good for the body being active is. Be active on the playground with the kids. Take charge of your own wellness and walk your talk.
Implement (and uphold) a Healthy Eating Policy in Your School - Promote healthy foods and beverages (whether supplied by the school or from home). Have a strict “no soda” policy. Exclude sugary items from snacks/lunches. Your school can even go so far as to ask that birthdays be celebrated with something other than mile-high, sugar-laden frosted cupcakes. The key is to communicate your school’s healthy eating policy very clearly. Let parents/caregivers know that you are promoting healthy choices as a way to help children establish a healthy lifestyle (and because you are an official Obesity-Fighting, Health-Promoting Warrior!).
Talk it up-
Nutrition Themed Curriculum – Celebrate nutrition and healthy eating styles in the classroom (I think you’ll find some great ideas at Preschool Plan-it!) but be sure to do this at the beginning of the school year. This way you’re setting the precedence for wellness throughout the year. Don’t stop talking about healthy choices when the theme changes over to dinosaurs though! Keep it going; use teachable moments.
Offer wellness workshops for parents – Parents want their children to be healthy but may not always know how sneaky food manufacturers can be when marketing or how certain foods may be impacting their child’s ability to concentrate. Invite a nutrition expert to come in to talk with parents about topics such as dealing with picky eaters, shopping healthy on a budget, getting kids to try new foods, the dangers of processed foods, childhood obesity – and more!
Include nutrition and exercise information in your school newsletter and on your website – have a designated space in your school newsletter and website for a wellness blurb. It could include quick, healthy recipes, tips about keeping kids active, nutrition information, the importance of sleep, the dangers of soda, etc. You can find a plethora of information at www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers to draw from.
Preschool teachers are some of the hardest working people I know! You are a child’s first teacher outside of their home.
As a former early childhood educator, I know from experience that what we say and do in the classroom really does have an impact! We don’t always know what things we say and do will make the biggest difference, but we can feel confident in knowing that it matters and can have long-term effect.
While childhood obesity may be at epidemic levels, teachers play an integral part in helping to eliminate it. You are needed on the front lines!
Be an Obesity-Fighting, Health-Promoting Warrior!
I promise you, it WILL make a difference.
Peggy Kelly is a health coach, wellness educator, yoga teacher, and 25+ year veteran in the wellness industry. She got her start teaching corporate fitness classes, walking programs, and personal training. Her highly successful coaching programs support clients with all aspects of wellness, including physical, intellectual/emotional, spiritual, relational/social, financial, and organizational wellness.
In addition to wellness, Peg’s background includes many years in a Fortune 500 corporation where she had a dual role of executive assistant/event planner along with teaching corporate fitness classes. She has a degree in early childhood education and is a former preschool lead teacher and director. Peggy has been in church leadership, taught Sunday school, directed VBS programs, and led a Women's Ministry program.
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Hey there! Welcome to Preschool Plan It! I’m Cheryl, a preschool teacher of over 20 years.
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