Collaboration is key to reducing incidence of childhood obesity in North Carolina
Special to Philanthropy Journal
Here in North Carolina, roughly three out of every 10 young, low-income children ages 2 to 4 years are either overweight or obese. Children who are obese by age 6 or overweight by age 12 have greater than a 50 percent likelihood of becoming obese adults. According to a report by the Trust for America’s Health, almost a third of adult North Carolinians are obese.
In light of these staggering numbers, a task force comprised of more than 70 child care and health experts from foundations, government agencies, universities, health professional associations and community groups recently issued a set of recommendations to address the problem of high obesity rates and rising health care costs by targeting the issue at its root: the state’s youngest children, birth to age 5.
The recommendations released by North Carolina’s Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) Task Force of Early Childhood Obesity Prevention (ECOP) identified the need for a comprehensive approach to address the complex problem of obesity from all angles – from the pediatrician’s office to the child care center. The recommendations specifically identified Shape NC as a program has already made progress in improving health and wellness in child care centers.
Shape NC is a unique partnership between the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (BCBSNCF) and The North Carolina Partnership for Children (NCPC) that, in its third year, has created a network of trained local experts to provide ongoing assistance for child care centers in areas of health, nutrition and physical activity.
At Friendly Avenue Christian Preschool in Guilford County, children are planting pumpkins and harvesting squash in their Outdoor Learning Environment, they are washing their pedal cars at Water Play Day, and they are surprising their parents by trying new vegetables straight from the garden. The children at Friendly Avenue are learning how to lead a healthy life because the preschool is promoting nutrition, physical activity, and outdoor play as a part of the daily routine. Teachers are fostering a sense of inquiry and investigation and are using the outdoors as an extension of the classroom, reinforcing that healthy activities are a part of many aspects of our lives, not just one. Much of this work has been a part of the Shape NC program.
Through the established statewide Smart Start network (led by NCPC), Shape NC builds on the policy and practice strength of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care (NAP-SACC) initiative, the nutrition expertise of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, the building environment changes from NCSU’s Natural Learning Initiative’s Preventing Obesity by Design (POD), and the programming and training skills of Be Active Kids. Shape NC is the first statewide initiative to combine multiple evidence-based strategies and implement both a top-down and bottom-up approach to improve the health of children.
Because Shape NC was built on the Smart Start network, it also uses the same multi-level approach for funding. The Smart Start network has the ability to develop state-wide partnerships like the one with BCBSNCF, and combine it with fundraising at the local level. By having a presence in the communities across North Carolina, relationships with child care centers, parents, caregivers and health care providers, Smart Start provides local support that maintains statewide oversight and outcomes – attacking the issue at the local and state levels with results that have long-term benefits for all North Carolinians.
Everybody has a role in improving the health of North Carolina children. Every sector has a role in addressing the epidemic through education, training and funding, and every child deserves to be a part of a program that offers healthy eating, physical activity and outdoor play. Friendly Avenue Christian Preschool, through Shape NC, has shown us the immediate benefits of an environment that develops healthy minds and bodies. It is up to all of us to make sure our children maintain those healthy minds and bodies and reverse the childhood obesity trend in order to create a healthier North Carolina.
Stephanie Fanjul is president of Smart Start & The North Carolina Partnership for Children, which is marking its 20th year of serving children and families across the state.