By Manel Kappagoda, program director and senior staff attorney at ChangeLab Solutions
More than 10 million kids nationwide spend the majority of their waking hours, eat more of their meals, and participate in more physical activity with someone other than their primary caregiver or parent. Early care and education (ECE) – formal settings that provide services to infants, toddlers, and young children – allows many parents and guardians to work. That means child care providers play a key role in helping young kids establish healthy habits that last a lifetime.
“It’s imperative to give children solid ground on which to grow,” said Ana Andrade, owner and operator of Wolf Pack Child Care in San Rafael, California. “That means creating healthy environments for them. It involves everything, from providing a clean place to play to feeding them the best foods to socializing with them.”
Many child care programs are small businesses that struggle to get public or private funding needed to deliver high-quality services that promote health. But there are funding streams providers can tap into that help them support kids and their families by creating healthy environments for the kids in their care.
The Role of Child Care
More than one in five U.S. children ages 2 to 5 years are already overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And now, during National Public Health Week, we are focusing on what it takes to create the healthiest nation possible by 2030. To realize that vision, we have to give our nation’s youngest children access to the things they need to grow up healthy.
Because ECE plays a major role in the lives of many children, improving these environments has become a priority of the obesity prevention movement. According to a recent report from the CDC, every state in the country needs to do more to improve health in child care settings. Providers can improve their child care facility by offering nutritious foods, providing safe spaces for activity, and facilitating learning and growth.
“At Wolf Pack, the kids eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. We have a veggie garden, and every morning we go out, pick some produce, and eat it right there,” said Andrade. “And it’s not just about giving the children good food. It’s about teaching them where food comes from, because one day they will make decisions about what they eat.”
Efforts like these help children practice and develop healthy behaviors.
Funding Healthy Environments
Many ECE providers rely on federal funding sources to create comprehensive, health-promoting child care. With financial support, providers can help provide high-quality child care to all children, regardless of their family’s economic means.
Head Start and Early Head Start: In 2014, Head Start served approximately a million children, primarily from families living below the poverty line. Early Head Start, a subset program, serves pregnant women and children up to age three. The federal government awards funds directly to ECE programs around the country. As a condition of receiving support, Head Start grantees must provide opportunities for active play, adhere to federal nutrition standards, and work with parents to address their child’s unique needs.
Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP): CACFP is a USDA-run nutrition program that provides aid to institutions and day care homes for the provision of food. It serves children and adults in many settings, from child care centers to homeless shelters. CACFP recipients must adhere to a set of age-specific nutrition standards. The USDA encourages specific best practices that range from offering a minimum number vegetables and legumes every week to not serving fried and pre-fried foods.
The Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF): The primary federal funding stream for child care in the country, CCDF awards block grants to states, which then provide child care subsidies to low-income families and distribute funding to providers to improve their facilities. CCDF subsidies support care for children up to age 13, but about two-thirds of the children served are under age six. States apply for funding, and set their own nutrition and physical activity standards for child care providers. Within CCDF, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program includes provisions for child care provider training on healthy eating and physical activity.
To achieve a healthier nation by 2030, we have to invest in our youngest generation. With kids of working mothers spending, on average, almost 40 hours a week in child care, it’s vital that we support programs that develop nurturing environments that help children lead longer, healthier lives.
For more information and alternative funding mechanisms for providers, see ChangeLab Solutions’ primer on the ECE financial landscape, Funding the Fundamentals.
Banner photo courtesy of U.S. Army Flickr.
Manel Kappagoda is a program director and senior staff attorney at ChangeLab Solutions, where she helps communities to tackle the obesity epidemic using policy interventions. She has coauthored a number of publications on public health policy, obesity prevention policy, and the intersection of law and public health. From its inception in 2007 until 2014, she managed the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN), a national program that is housed at ChangeLab Solutions and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Manel’s entire career has been focused on using law and policy tools to improve health access and outcomes in low-income communities. This focus is at the heart of her interest in chronic disease prevention policy.