Starting on the Right Foot—and Staying There
There’s no such thing as starting too early when it comes to forming healthy habits, according to the Healthy Beginnings for Preschoolers 2-5 team. They provide resources, training, and guidance to early learning practitioners that help ensure preschoolers are learning healthy eating habits and keeping active from an early age in in British Columbia, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Quebec.
“Unhealthy weights in children and youth is a priority area for us,” said Craig Larsen, executive director of the Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada (CDPAC), a network of 12 national health, research, and policy organizations, and a leading organization for the Healthy Beginnings program. “This major risk factor tracks into adulthood, and it increases the risk for a number of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.”
Healthy Beginnings is teaching practitioners how to avoid this risk in children, influencing generations to come by empowering Canadians and cultivating healthy habits. This program was created under the leadership of CDPAC through the Collaborative Action on Childhood Obesity (CACO) initiative, funded by Health Canada through the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer’s Coalitions Linking Action and Science for Prevention (CLASP) initiative.
Empowering Childcare Providers
Healthy Beginnings is a powerful resource, says Vanessa Morley, CACO team’s program coordinator. “The Healthy Beginnings program pulls together many fantastic resources from across the country to create an at-your-fingertips resource manual. Practitioners can find anything they might need to support our recommended best-practice guidelines, just by flipping through the pages.”
Morley has played a key role in organizing the development of Healthy Beginnings. She works with the Childhood Obesity Foundation in British Columbia to train early learning practitioners across the province.
The CACO team has worked to ensure that the Healthy Beginnings program can be used anywhere in Canada in ways that complement existing guidelines and resources. “About eight months into the project, we realized that the resources would need to be flexible and adaptable to meet everyone’s needs,” Morley said.
“Realizing this, our working group decided to structure the manuals so that each section could stand alone. For example, if one province or territory has their own set of guidelines that they want to follow, they could swap theirs in, and the Healthy Beginnings guidelines can be removed easily."
“The program provides essential information for creating a positive environment around healthy eating and physical activity for children aged two to five,” said Yukon coordinator Jan Downing. “Not only this, but the daycare staff, parents, and volunteers find the information supportive of their own well-being in these areas. This ripple effect reaches beyond the daycare setting in rural and remote communities.”
The Ripple Effect
Healthy Beginnings is based on a whole-setting approach to improve childcare guidelines, practices, and environments. This positive approach also affects children's families. Two manuals have been created with a wide variety of planning templates, games, recipes, tips, and advice for childcare workers related to healthy eating, physical activity, reduced screen time, and reduced sugar sweetened beverage consumption.
Practitioners who have completed the three-hour training session report positive results. “The workshop provided us with lots of good learning materials,” said one BC participant. “All centres should refresh themselves with this kind of information.”
The flexibility and applicability of this program for practitioners across Canada is paying off. Program resources are available in English and French, and so far more than 95 early learning practitioners are participating in the program, reaching more than 900 children.
A new website, www.healthybeginningspreschoolers.ca, has been launched in August 2014. All program materials are available for download, free, and it offers other resources that are specific to provincial/territorial needs.
“We are exploring opportunities to work with other stakeholders that are interested in early childhood health—including schools, governments, and the private sector—to help extend the reach of Healthy Beginnings across Canada,” Larsen said.
CDPAC and its project partners hope to continue to scale-up this initiative to new jurisdictions, and broaden the reach of this program to families and non-regulated childcare environments.
Editor's Note: This blog post was authored by the Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada (CDPAC), a network of 12 national health, research, and policy organizations. CDPAC is a Network Partner for The Play Exchange Challenge.