Shape NC: Hope in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity in North Carolina
When it comes to obesity prevention, it’s never too early to start. Thanks to a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine, we now know that children who are overweight when they start school are far more likely to be obese by the time they become teenagers. This means that we need to pay far closer attention to what our youngest kids are eating and how much they are playing, especially considering childhood obesity in North Carolina where roughly three out of every 10 young low-income children ages 2 to 4 years are either overweight or obese–and that’s on top of the 1 in 8 children nationwide.
One great place to start is in our child care centers. Did you know that approximately 38 percent of North Carolina’s children are enrolled in almost 5,000 regulated childcare centers, where they receive most meals and spend most of their waking hours? If we can make sure that they are starting off with healthy food, no screen time and plenty of active play, then we can set the stage for a healthy life. And it’s these statistics have inspired the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation* to renew its commitment to a program that works to prevent childhood obesity among North Carolina children.
As much as we want to provide the healthiest food and active play for our children at home, it makes sense that we would want our children to get a healthy start when they are in child care.
That’s where ShapeNC, an early childhood initiative focused on increasing the number of young children who start kindergarten at a healthy weight, comes in. Shape NC is an interdisciplinary initiative that brings together leading experts in early childhood education, nutrition, physical activity, and landscape design to create 18 Model child care centers across North Carolina. The goal is to improve children’s healthy development through built environment, nutrition, and physical activity interventions. These centers are trained on creating policies and environments that ensure that children get regular active play, healthy food and beverages and engaging play spaces.
The BCBSNC Foundation’s support of Shape NC began in 2010, when it teamed up with the North Carolina Partnership for Children to launch the program with a three-year, $3 million grant. And the BCBSNC Foundation recently announced it will invest another $3 million to help expand Shape NC, an early childhood initiative focused on increasing the number of young children who start kindergarten at a healthy weight.
What’s so impressive about Shape NC? Well here’s a few stats for starters. Major improvements in these child care centers in the last three years include more active play, limited screen time, regular healthy food and beverages, and outdoor play. Other great examples:
- Children’s Weight: Over the course of each school year, the percent of children who reach a healthy weight is gradually improving.
- Active Play: Children getting 90 minutes or more of physical activity daily rose from 51% to 85 %.
- Fruit: Children being provided with fruit two or more times per day rose from 34% to 80%.
- Vegetables: Children being provided with vegetables two or more times per day rose from 32% to 60%.
- Beans and Lean Meats: Children being provided with beans or lean meats one or more times per day rose from 9% to 40%.
- Outdoor Learning: 19% of child care centers made improvement to outdoor learning environments including additions like bike paths and vegetable gardens.
- Center Staff: 74 staff members at child care centers improved at least one of their own health behaviors, including eating more fruits and vegetables, more physical activity and less sweetened beverages.
Additionally, centers around North Carolina are doing amazing things with their the Shape NC grants:
- The Growing Place Child Care Center is planting a fruit and vegetable garden as part of their curriculum. With the garden, the kids in Randolph County will not only learn how to plant veggies, but how to eat them too.
- The Mountain Area Child Learning Center is getting a new natural playground to ensure kids are getting plenty of exercise in the great outdoors.
Stories like these impressed the Foundation team and motivated them to help expand this important work. By the end of 2016, Shape NC is aiming to expand the program to more than 200 North Carolina child care centers.
Foundation president, Kathy Higgins highlights just how important its investment in Shape NC is:
“This initiative works, so we’re giving the North Carolina Partnership for Children the resources it needs to expand and enhance Shape NC and improve the health and well-being for more of North Carolina’s youngest children and the communities in which they live.”
Convincing young children to eat fruits and vegetables and turn off the TV isn’t easy, but starting their earliest years off with healthy meals and active play every day is a great way to begin good habits that will last a lifetime. That’s why we’re so proud of the BCBSNC Foundation and the work they’ve done to help North Carolina’s youngest kids get a leg up instead of a pound up on a healthy life!
For complete list of the North Carolina child care centers participating in the Shape NC program, head on over to the BCBSNC Foundation’s website or check out the BCBSNC Foundation on Twitter @BCBSNCFound and facebook.
*The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (BCBSNC Foundation) is an independent philanthropic affiliate of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of North Carolinians. The Foundation’s focus areas include: Health of Vulnerable Populations – improving health outcomes of populations served by safety net organizations and Healthy Active Communities – increasing physical activity and access to healthy local foods. BCBSNC Foundation invests in programs and services in response to grant requests and proactively creates initiatives or partners with organizations to address specific needs. It also coordinates several Signature Programs, among them, Be Active Kids® and Healthy Community Institute for Nonprofit Excellence. More information is available at www.bcbsncfoundation.org. Since its founding in 2000, the BCBSNC Foundation has invested nearly $98 million into North Carolina communities through more than 720 grants.