Regional Health In Focus: Early Childhood Nutrition

Early childhood nutrition and healthy eating habits in adolescence are important for proper growth and development, as well as for the prevention of various health conditions. A healthy diet can reduce the risk of developing problems such as heart disease, diabetes, iron deficiency and dental caries, among others.

In some ways, our country performs well when it comes to early childhood nutrition. According to the 2016 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), more mothers are breastfeeding their children for longer durations, which gives a child a healthy head start in the first several months of his or her life. Another positive from the study shows that more than half (59%) of 2- and 3-year-olds eat whole grains on a given day.

However, there are also many areas for improvement highlighted in the study. Overall, it was determined that too few children are eating fruits and vegetables, while too many children consume sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and savory snacks. Specific areas of concern included the following:

early childhood nutrition

If they become regular eating habits, these dietary concerns can lead to childhood obesity, which is a direct risk factor for a number of chronic diseases and other health problems. It can also increases a child’s chances of being overweight or obese as an adult.

Across Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties, the rate of obesity among children and adolescents is 21% — meaning more than 1 in 5 youths in our region is obese. This rate holds true within each of the three counties and in over two-thirds of our region’s school districts. It is also true across different age groups of children and teens. In total, 40% of children and adolescents in our region are either overweight or obese.

What can I do to take action?

There’s an old saying that says “it takes a village to raise a child,” and when it comes to childhood nutrition, that’s true! While many of a child’s eating habits are formed at home, there are parts of the community — particularly schools and child care agencies — that play a vital role in establishing healthy eating patterns in youth.

For parents...
• Make mealtimes a pleasant and comfortable experience. Sit together and share a meal while engaging your children in positive conversations to help them feel relaxed.
• Limit high-sugar and high-fat foods. Watch the intake of saturated fats for children ages 2 and older.
• Encourage children to try new foods without forcing them, and allow children to decide how much to eat.
• If you would like more information, the American Academy of Pediatrics provides nutrition information to parents with children of different ages (babies, toddlers & preschoolers, grade-schoolers, preteens and teens).
• The USDA Nutrition and Food Service offers nutritious free meals for school-aged children at many locations during the summer. To find free meals near you, use the USDA’s 2018 Summer Meal Site Finder.
For community organizations, schools and child care professionals…
• Provide daily nutrition activities, lessons, and learning experiences to promote positive attitudes about good nutrition and health.
• Help families understand and practice healthy eating habits.

early childhood nutritionEating smarter:

Smarter Lunchrooms are no-cost or low-cost strategies that lunchrooms can use to increase participation, improve consumption of healthy food, and reduce food waste. The strategies are based on research from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs and partners. Click the map on the left to view Smarter Lunchrooms in our region.

In Jefferson County, 4 out of 11 public school districts have adopted Smarter Lunchrooms policies, as have 3 out of 5 in Lewis County.

Unfortunately, none of St. Lawrence County’s 17 public school districts use Smarter Lunchrooms. However, all counties are working to strengthen local school wellness policies and increase access to healthy foods in the community.

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