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Program gives preschoolers head start on healthy habits
Students at Clearview Early Learning Center recently enjoyed a Zumbatomic exercise session. Pictured in front (from left) are Ja’La Niblett and Jahrine Jones. Immediately behind them are Logan Townsend (left) and Ashley Simacek. (Contributed photo by Kim Barto)
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
By KIM BARTO -
Getting fit can be fun — just ask preschoolers at Clearview Early Learning Center.
Clearview recently held a health and wellness workshop for parents and their children to showcase the healthy habits students have learned at school for the past two years. More than 50 families joined students for an active afternoon event that featured aerobics, art, nutrition lessons and a kid-friendly snack of fruit, granola and low-fat yogurt.
“We had great participation. The parents and kids really seemed to enjoy it,” said Clearview Director and School Nutrition Director Sheilah Williams.
This was the second school year that Clearview received a grant from the Martinsville City Public Schools Endowment for a health program aimed at students and their families. This year, grant funds provided a Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit video game and projector so that the school could get students moving to age-appropriate dance exercise routines projected on a wall of the gym.
Amy Clemons, who teaches 3-year-olds at Clearview and helped organize the health program, said the idea sprang from the rising concerns about childhood obesity across the country.
“Without a gym teacher, we needed to implement a program to make a big push against obesity in children,” Clemons said.
The songs and dance routines of the Wii Fit game make exercise fun for the children, she said. Each class used the Wii three times a week throughout the year. However, Clemons said, “They beg for it every day. They love to dance.”
The Martinsville-Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness also has provided free Zumbatomics aerobic dance sessions for the children throughout the year as a reward for the school’s high participation in a wellness pledge program. The coalition was on hand to teach Zumbatomics and nutrition lessons during the parent-child workshop, along with nutrition activities from the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Smart Beginnings of Martinsville-Henry County led a craft for children to create their own versions of “My Plate,” a graphic that has replaced the traditional Food Pyramid as a guide for nutritious eating. It shows a colorful plate, divided into food groups, showing how much of each group a person should eat in a meal. Vegetables make up the biggest part of the plate. FAMIS, Virginia’s low- or no-cost health care plan for children, also made information about the program available to families.
“We felt like this was a need, to start these lessons at a younger age before unhealthy habits form,” Williams said.
The school health program also complements a USDA grant through the state that provided fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to students three times a week this school year. The healthy snacks were coupled with lessons on good nutrition from the Virginia Cooperative Extension and the coalition. Students would read a children’s book that features a fruit or vegetable as part of the story, for instance, and then try the fruit or vegetable for themselves.
It’s about “helping them understand that a treat doesn’t have to be a sweet, sugary item — it can be a fresh fruit, or a vegetable with low-fat dip,” Williams said.
During the family workshop, Kim Hairfield, family nutrition program assistant with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Kayla Craddock, community health educator with the coalition, gave parents an eye-opening demonstration on the sugar content of everyday foods.
Hairfield and Craddock displayed a table full of popular packaged foods and drinks. Beside each item was a clear cup showing how much sugar it contains. They explained that added sugar lurks in unexpected places, including some foods and drinks that are packaged as “healthy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in February that added sugars in drinks and foods make up 16 percent of the calories U.S. children consume. This is much more than the CDC’s recommendation to limit sugars and fat combined to between 5 and 15 percent of daily calories. Too much sugar is a risk factor for obesity, diabetes and other health issues.
Hairfield held up a bottled coffee drink and showed parents that it contains more than seven teaspoons of sugar.
“You wouldn’t put more than seven teaspoons of sugar in your coffee at home,” she said. As for a juice box, “One quarter of this box is sugar.”
Hairfield pointed out that a popular chocolate milk brand contains nine teaspoons of sugar but said it still is a better drink option for kids than many of the others on the table. “I’d much rather give them this milk because of the vitamins,” she said.
Sports drinks have lots of added sodium because they are meant to be drunk only when working out and sweating profusely. If you’re not working up a sweat, don’t reach for a sports drink, Hairfield said.
In the grocery store, parents should get in the habit of reading nutrition labels and watching for added sugars, Hairfield said. The number of teaspoons in a particular food can be determined by dividing the number of grams of sugar by four. A good rule of thumb is to look for food and drinks with less than eight grams of sugar, she said.
“A fun thing to do with kids is teach them how to read the labels” and have them look for items with eight grams or less, she suggested.
Craddock presented the 95210 concept, a “zip code” campaign to help parents remember what kids need every day to prevent childhood obesity. It stands for nine hours of sleep per night, five servings of fruits and vegetables, no more than two hours of screen time, one hour of physical activity, and zero drinks with added sugar per day.
Takisha and Patrice Bellfield attended the workshop with their daughter, 4-year-old Sienna Carter.
“I liked the zip code aspect of it. It makes it so much easier and fun to remember what your child needs,” Takisha Bellfield said.
Although she had heard much of the nutrition information already through Weight Watchers, she said, “All the information today was really valuable. I think the Zumba is fun, too. It’s fun for the kids, too, and it doesn’t feel like exercise.”