Healthy Eating Program Gets Kids and Families Crunching

Healthy Eating Program Gets Kids And Families Crunching

Tue 21 Jun 2011

Story by Erica Zamensky
 

Who Says Kids Won’t Eat Their Vegetables?

For ten years, The Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County has been a steadfast health advocate, dedicated to reducing child obesity. And the problem is certainly urgent: Recent nutrition data indicate that Carroll County families eat fast food a minimum of four times per week and often omit fruit and vegetables from meals.

Feedback from parents indicates that busy schedules prevent them from cooking healthy meals, and nutritious eating isn’t a primary household focus—the battle to get kids to eat vegetables is too overwhelming. After reviewing the gloomy reality of family nutrition, The Partnership set out to design a program to introduce good food habits at elementary school age and to give families a platform from which to establish healthy change.

We wanted a program that engaged children in their own nutrition choices, and gave parents the tools necessary to build a healthy household. We wanted to integrate schools into the program so that both school and home environments could send the same messages. When they work together, then a true lifestyle change can occur because the child’s whole world is represented.

Using a grant from the Kaiser Permanente Foundation, The Partnership developed It’s Crunch Time! Coordinating with Parr’s Ridge and Mount Airy Elementary Schools, both located in Mount Airy, Maryland, The Partnership launched a pilot It’s Crunch Time! program in April 2011.

The voluntary scheme asks families to discuss and commit to healthy changes, and asks kids to track their servings of fruit, vegetables, fast food, junk food, and sugary drinks for two months using the program packet calendars, distributed via classrooms. The program also involves schools through “Crunch Your Lunch” sticker sessions, where kids who are “caught” eating crunchy fruits and vegetables receive a sticker and heaps of positive praise. To further support the positive changes, principals at Parr’s and MAES issued a new policy asking parents not to pack sugary drinks in their child’s lunch.

Five weeks into the pilot program and parents are applauding! Unsolicited emails and phone calls from parents indicate that kids are asking for fruits and vegetables and are switching out sodas for water. Children are becoming involved in grocery shopping, often reminding parents to purchase healthy fare. Kids are leading the charge of change—many parents are altering their unhealthy habits, too.

The largest hurdle was encouraging participation. While 32% of the families are participating—a strong showing for a pilot program—a higher number was hoped for. Incentives (donated by local businesses and funded by the grant) were provided to encourage participation, but the two-month commitment intimidated the majority. Some parents felt it was “just one more thing to do.” As The Partnership shapes this program for future application in other youth-serving venues, we will consider how to make this program more busy-family-friendly. Conducting the weekly sticker sessions required parent volunteers, who were vital to our success.

As other communities establish programs to battle child obesity, we recommend polling the children, parents and schools to understand their needs and limitations to truly fit the program to the environment it’ll be rolled out in. Contact local business partners for incentive support. Grocery stores, gyms, karate studios, and sports stores enjoy helping their communities become healthier!

We recently polled the participants about the changes made to their diets, and the results were hugely encouraging. From 28% admitting to a daily soda, now just 11% were having one - and 8% said they now only drank them on special occasions. Fully 63% of kids said they now eat at least two servings of fruit or veggies a day, where previously only 33% did so, and 45% said they were eating three or more, up from 23%.

One of the best results was in how much junk food was being eaten – from 16% eating three or more junk food servings a day, this is now down to just 3%.

We’re hoping to soon see that number sink to zero!

About the author: Erica Zamensky is Coordinator of It’s Crunch Time! and L.E.A.N Carroll at the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County.

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