EAGAN, Minn., Oct. 25, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Early childhood is a critical time for the development of healthy habits. Eighty-two percent of Minnesota children between the ages of three and five regularly attend child care and spend an average of 22 hours a week in these settings, whether with licensed providers or with family, friends or neighbors. Introducing physical activity and teaching children about healthy eating within these settings lays the groundwork for a lifetime of healthy choices.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota, with support from the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, recently conducted a statewide survey of licensed center and home-based early care and education providers about nutrition and physical activity practices currently being used. The survey was a follow-up to a similar survey completed in 2010. Additional support for this survey was provided by Hunger Impact Partners.
The 115-question survey asked providers what they are already doing to ensure kids eat healthy food and are physically active, as well as what barriers they face. Survey results were mixed, indicating progress in some areas and room for improvement in others:
- More providers are limiting high-sugar foods, with 47 percent serving these foods less than once per week (up seven percent in centers and 25 percent in homes since 2010)
- Sixty-one percent serve a fruit or vegetable at every meal and snack (up 18 percent in centers and eight percent in homes since 2010)
- Eighty percent of childcare centers provide at least one hour of active play each day, up 23 percent since 2010; 69 percent of home-based providers provide this amount
- Only 33 percent of providers are attending annual healthy eating and nutrition trainings, a decrease of three percent since 2010
- Only 33 percent of providers serve only whole-grain foods
"We believe that providing children with healthy environments from a young age is important, as it lays the foundation for healthier lives as they grow older," said Janelle Waldock, vice president of community health and health equity at Blue Cross, who leads the organization's Center for Prevention. "It is critical that the youngest members of our community are provided opportunities to be healthy in early care and education settings, considering the unquestionable connection between our surroundings – the places where we live, learn, work and play – and our health."
Providers named several barriers to implementing best practices. Related to healthy eating, obstacles include the cost of healthier foods, with more than 70 percent citing this as a barrier, and a lack of time to prepare and serve healthy foods, with 30 percent citing this as a barrier.
For physical activity, inclement weather and equipment costs topped the list, with 63 percent of centers and 81 percent of home-based providers listing weather conditions as a barrier, and half of all respondents citing the cost of purchasing equipment. Related to weather, half of the surveyed providers said that children do not always bring weather-appropriate clothing each day, which limits opportunities to be active outdoors.
"The results of this study are impactful, as they demonstrate the many ways Minnesota providers are creating healthy environments for the children in their care," said Dr. Katie Loth, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota, who co-investigated the study. "At the same time, these results also point out areas where we can all work together to make improvements. Overall, providers are willing and interested in continuing to make positive changes; they need our support to find creative and effective solutions to the barriers they face."
OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTION
Fortunately, there are several action steps that can be taken by providers, parents and caregivers, and advocates. For instance:
- Providers may consider pursuing farmers markets, cooperative purchasing and farm-to-table options as creative ways to reduce costs related to healthy food.
- Parents may consider helping develop policies related to healthy food and physical activity at their children's day care, while encouraging their children to try new, healthy food options at home.
- Advocates are encouraged to think collaboratively about systems-level changes to improve access to healthy food and active play, to look for ways to connect providers to convenient and less expensive alternatives to traditional grocery stores, to expand training or educational opportunities, and to provide other supports for providers interested in creating healthier early care and education settings.
About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School, with its two campuses in the Twin Cities and Duluth, is a leading educator of the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and the school's 3,370 faculty and affiliate physicians and scientists advance patient care, discover biomedical research breakthroughs with more than $177 million in sponsored research annually, and enhance health through world-class patient care for the state of Minnesota and beyond. Visit www.med.umn.edu to learn more.
About the Center for Prevention
The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota delivers on Blue Cross' long-term commitment to improve the health of all Minnesotans by tackling the leading root causes of preventable disease: tobacco use, lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating. Funded through proceeds from Blue Cross' historic lawsuit against the tobacco industry, they collaborate with organizations statewide to increase health equity, transform communities and create a healthier state. Visit CenterforPreventionMN.com for more information and to see a timeline celebrating the Center's 10-year anniversary.
About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (bluecrossmn.com), with headquarters in the St. Paul suburb of Eagan, was chartered in 1933 as Minnesota's first health plan and continues to carry out its charter mission today as a health company: to promote a wider, more economical and timely availability of health services for the people of Minnesota. Blue Cross is a not-for-profit, taxable organization. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, headquartered in Chicago.
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SOURCE Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota