Head Start programs may help improve obesity rates in preschoole - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Head Start programs may help improve obesity rates in preschoolers

LONGS, SC (WMBF) - Kids in the Head Start preschool program are fighting obesity, according to a study that looked at more than 43,000 preschoolers.

It begins in the morning when kids sit in the cafeteria to have breakfast. Program directors said tightened USDA guidelines pertaining to what kids are served play a big role in the fact that kids who start out obese are getting down to normal weight in the course of a year.

The study says almost 17 percent of kids in Head Start were obese at the beginning of the year, a much higher percentage than the group of children in the primary health care system researchers also looked at. At the end of the year, only a little more than 5 percent were still at that level. The drop was far more significant than what the other group experienced.

The Executive Director over the 12 Head Start programs in our region said that is similar transformation to the numbers he sees each year. Being a government-funded program, there are requirements that Head Start must follow, and the USDA has pushed to create healthier environments for students, who are evaluated through the year and taught daily about nutrition.

Part of new guidelines require the cafeteria to serve more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and that's part of the reason the people in charge of Head Start feel it's so successful.

There's also the minimum 45 minutes of physical activity students must get daily, and lastly, the program works extensively through teaching and meetings with parents to stress the importance of healthy lifestyles.

"We have a specific plan that's tailored to the child's need. We involve the parents,” says James Pasley, the Executive Director of the Waccamaw Equal Opportunity Council. “We engage the families as being part of the solution helping them understand the importance and why they should continue the program that was developed."

The improvement isn't seen in just obese and overweight kids. Out of those who started underweight, which can also cause serious health problems, Pasley says 100 percent of those students reached a healthy weight over the course of the year.

And the key to it all is parent involvement.

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