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Childcare centers are serving healthier food and pushing more physical activity than they did five years ago. But it’s less clear that these changes are promoting health equity for Latinos and other minority children, according to a new report.
The report, Early Care and Education Policies and Programs to Support Healthy Eating and Physical Activity: Best Practices and Changes Over Time, reviews policy and system changes in food service, physical activity, and screen time in early care and education (ECE) settings from 2011 to 2016. ECE settings include childcare centers, day care homes, Head Start programs, and preschools.
The report was led by Healthy Eating Research.
“The early childhood years are critical to the prevention of obesity,” according to the report. “The role of the child-care setting is becoming increasingly important in fostering [healthy dietary and physical activity habits] in young children.”
Why is ECE Important for Child Health?
Fewer Latino children (52%) are enrolled in ECE centers than their white peers (63%). But Latino kids who participate in such centers match or exceed their peers in academic and social gains, according to a Salud America! research review.
ECE centers are also critical to health.
Childcare can engage kids and parents in establishing healthy eating patterns, physical activity, and obesity prevention. While a nationwide concern, obesity is especially prevalent among Latino children. More than 39% of U.S. Latino youths ages 2-19 are overweight or obese. That’s a higher rate than 28.5% of white youth, according to Salad America!
Here are seven ways ECE providers are pushing healthier eating. These are due to the new changes to the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) that went into effect on Oct. 1, 2017, according to Healthy Eating Research. CACFP provides food to 4.2 million children a day in childcare and after-school settings.
Old: Fruits OR vegetables served at lunch meals.
New: Both fruits and vegetables (or two different vegetables) served at lunch meals.
Old: Juice may be served and counted as a fruit component of the meal with no limits.
New: Juice may be served and counted as a fruit component of the meal, but is limited to once per day.
3. Whole grains
Old: Whole grains or enriched grains allowed with no minimum requirement for whole grains
New: One serving of whole grain-rich grains must be served each day.
4. Grain-based desserts
Old: Grain-based desserts are allowed at meals and snacks as a reimbursable grain component.
New: Grain-based desserts, such as cookies, cakes, and pies, are no longer reimbursable as a grain component.
Old: No sugar limits or restrictions on any foods or meal components.
New: Meal patterns limit added sugar by requiring unflavored milk only for children ages 0-5 and by limiting sugar in ready-to-eat cereals and yogurt.
6. Breast milk
Old: Breast milk provided by bottle is reimbursable.
New: Breast milk provided by bottle and direct breastfeeding onsite is reimbursable.
7. Fruits, veggies, juice, as snacks
Old: Fruit juice, but not whole fruits or vegetables, is reimbursable under the snack meal pattern for infants 6-11 months old.
New: Fruits and/or vegetables must be served as snacks for infants 6-11 months old; juice is no longer reimbursable for this age group.
These changes are important for ECE providers. To be eligible for funding, ECE programs must follow these federal and states laws, policies, regulations, and guidelines.
More ECE Changes
Healthy eating isn’t the only thing ECE providers can improve.
The new research by Healthy Eating Research offers these recommendations:
- Strengthen and support federal initiatives. For example, continue to support state agencies and providers as they work to implement updated CACFP nutrition standards and wellness policies and practices in participating child-care centers and family child-care homes.
- Focus state and local policy efforts on strategies to prevent childhood obesity. For example, set requirements for healthy eating, breastfeeding, physical activity, and screen time.
- Preserve and promote funding for obesity prevention. For example, support more research on what works to promote healthy eating and physical activity in childcare settings.
“Because poor nutrition and obesity in Latino children is due to complex sociocultural reasons, a broad approach to improving eating habits may be effective, especially when it includes extended family networks, school, and community activities.” Salad America! research explains.
Learn more ways to aid the health of Latino children here: