Better Nutrition and Active Play in Early Care and Education is Critical to Healthy Futures

Statement from National Organizations Working to Improve the Health of Young Children

December 20, 2016 Categories: Program News

DALLAS, Dec. 20, 2016 —For many young children, their first time down a slide or their first time trying new vegetables are in preschool or child care settings.  Young children thrive, grow and begin to develop a lifetime of habits in these early years—that is why it is so important we reach kids in early care and education settings.  Several states have made significant strides in ensuring all young children have the building blocks they need—nutritious foods and plenty of active play—for a healthy life. Recent research shows 31 states are seeing modest declines in childhood obesity rates among 2 to 4 year olds of low-income families, enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) from 2010 to 2014.

These declines are a sign that the collaboration, innovation and time and money invested with families in preschool and child care settings are starting to work. With more than 60 percent of children spending the majority of their day in out of home settings, both parents and providers are seeking the best standards for ensuring children have a healthy start in life. Currently, 25 states include a few high-impact obesity prevention standards in state's licensing regulations for childcare and early education programs, with Mississippi leading the way with 15 of 47 standards. Standards can also be built into Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). North Carolina has nutrition and active play standards in both regulations and QRIS, a model for other states, which provides a continuum of regulations and voluntary best practices that support child health. As states work to revise regulations and QRIS systems to meet these requirements, every state has an opportunity to give all children a better foundation for healthy hearts. We recommend three key strategies to accelerate progress and improve the health of the next generation.

  • First and foremost, we must ensure our youngest children have access to healthy food and drinks they need to develop healthy bodies and minds. Only 10 percent of children ages 2 to 18 eat the recommended amount of vegetables and only 40 percent eat enough fruit. The American Heart Association recommends no sugary drinks for children under age 2, and no more than one sugary drink per week for older children. Yet by the age of five, children are consuming an average of five percent of their calories every day from sugary drinks.
  • Second, for the sake of their heart and brain health, children need plenty of active play time—both structured and unstructured—to develop strong bodies and to improve learning. Preschool age children need at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every single day, but observational studies show that is often not met.
  • Third, young children should not spend much time in front of screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released new standards about screen time, which advise limits of 1 hour per day of screen time for children 2 to 5 across ALL settings—home and early care and education. These three building blocks for a healthy life can begin with basic standards for child care and early education providers.

Our organizations each play a role in advocating for improved state policy across our nation. We are committed to working towards equitable, quality early care and education environments for every child. We strongly believe that continuing to support standards and supports for nutrition, physical activity and screen time in early care and education will transform the health of the next generation.

As parents and providers seek to make early care and education a healthier place for children to learn letters and colors, we will support them in developing healthy hearts and brains.

After School Alliance

Alliance for a Healthier Generation

American Academy of Pediatrics

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

American Heart Association

Berkeley Media Studies Group, a project of  the Public Health Institute

Child Care Aware of America

MomsRising

Nemours Children’s Health System

Salud America!

YMCA of the USA

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For Media Inquiries:

Suzette Harris (214) 706-1207; suzette.harris@heart.org

For Public Inquiries: (800)-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)

heart.org and strokeassociation.org