Increasing access to healthy environments in the early childcare setting: San Juan Basin Health Department’s work through the Community Partnership for Health Mothers and Children Grant

By Sloan Gingg, Project Coordinator, WIC Grant, San Juan Basin Health Department

Research shows that reaching children at a young age improves chances of embracing healthy messages and behaviors for a lifetime. Early childcare education has been established as a critical partner in the fight against childhood obesity and other chronic diseases and provides the opportunity to shape healthy behaviors through education.[1] As part of our chronic disease-prevention grant through the National WIC Association’s Community Partnerships for Healthy Mothers and Children, San Juan Basin Health Department (SJBHD) is partnering with Tri County Head Start to sponsor the implementation of evidence-based coordinated school health curriculum. Tri County Head Start staff will implement the CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) Early Childhood (CEC) Curriculum in its five sites in La Plata and Archuleta counties. CEC is designed to nurture a love of physical activity, provide introduction to classroom-based gardening and nutrition, and encourage healthy eating in children. The curriculum will provide 9 nutrition-based and 10 gardening-based lessons to encourage healthy eating behaviors, as well as over 400 activity cards with music aimed at promoting physical activity. SJBHD will purchase CEC and host comprehensive training for Tri County Head Start educators and administrators, as well as evaluation to ensure implementation fidelity. Implementation in each of the 5 locations will begin in October of this year.

SJBHD is also working with the Garden Project of SW Colorado and Healthy Community Food Systems to establish small preschool gardens in three Head Start locations in La Plata and Archuleta Counties. The Garden Project has established many school gardens in our community and we were able to tour one of them gardens with Quinney during our site visit.

The preschool gardens we’ll establish at three Head Start locations will be raised beds and/or container gardens and will supplement the implementation of CATCH Early Childhood. The new gardens will make the project more comprehensive and more likely to be successful in increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables [2] (and ultimately reducing chronic disease). SJBHD is working to establish internal garden coordinators – either on-site staff or passionate parents – to ensure the gardens will be cared for and sustained beyond the timeline of this project. During Quinney’s site visit, we had the opportunity to visit one of the Head Start locations we’ll be working with, Roberta Shirley Center (RSC).

Jeremy, head cook at RSC, showing staff the spot where the future RSC garden will be.

Jeremy, head cook at RSC, showing staff the spot where the future RSC garden will be.

At RSC, we met the head cook, Jeremy – also a garden enthusiast – who has committed to maintaining the preschool garden. He will serve on the garden planning committee and use fresh produce from the garden as often as possible in school meals. We also got to see the enthusiasm the staff has for the implementation of both the preschool garden and CATCH, which is always energizing and exciting to see. We’re looking forward to seeing these efforts come to fruition throughout the course of this grant work!

[1] Foltz, Jennifer L., Ashleigh L. May, Brook Belay, Allison J. Nihiser, Carrie A. Dooyema, and Heidi M. Blanck. "Population-Level Intervention Strategies and Examples for Obesity Prevention in Children." Annu. Rev. Nutr. Annual Review of Nutrition 32.1 (2012): 391-415. Web.

[2] Mikkelsen, Mette V., Sofie Husby, Laurits R. Skov, and Federico Ja Perez-Cueto. "A Systematic Review of Types of Healthy Eating Interventions in Preschools." Nutrition Journal Nutr J 13.1 (2014): n. pag. Web.