It’s a sad commentary on today’s society that the obesity epidemic now extends to the preschool crowd.
Nationally, the percentage of obese preschoolers doubled between the 1970s and the mid 2000s, and a 2009 federal health report estimated that 11 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds around the country are overweight. In Louisiana, the figures are even worse: the percentage of obese children younger than 5 jumped from 10.4 percent in 1998 to 13.8 percent in 2007.
With that unfortunate data in mind, we were particularly pleased to hear of the efforts of a Minden Head Start program that is working with the young ones to emphasize how their food choices and exercise can affect their entire lives. Beyond the basic lessons, they are seeking to instill good eating and exercise habits before the bad ones become ingrained.
Most certainly, the Mother Goose Land Head Start program isn’t the only such center that is emphasizing wellness to its youngsters, but it is certainly a fine example of an effort that should be modeled by others.
The program and others like it are making life-changing contributions to the children in their purview and to the future society of healthier older children and adults.
Another positive at Mother Goose is that dietitian and Louisiana Tech graduate student Jennifer Guin is measuring the effectiveness of various nutritional lessons and gathering a base of information that can be used by other programs.
“By reaching these children at an earlier age, I hope to combat unhealthy habits now so the children have a chance at a better quality of life long-term,” Guin said. “I have a chance to disseminate data that could potentially influence practice, education and public policy in the future.”
The Minden program was highlighted in a recent Times series on childhood obesity that noted that research increasingly shows that early habits can help or hinder older children battling the bulge. Some studies suggest that children’s eating habits are largely established by the time they enter kindergarten.
If it is indeed true that all we ever need to know is learned by kindergarten, then let’s make sure that every possible program includes a healthy pre-school dose of nutrition and exercise lessons.
As a public policy issue, it’s an easy one to advocate. More early childhood education and first-hand nutritional experiences — at home and school — then pay forward to a future with fewer demands on the health care system by a citizenry that lives longer and better.