Children in the Somerset Valley Y’s child care center in Hillsborough and Somerville joined with their parents and Y staff on Thursday, Oct. 11 to celebrate the launch into pre-school of an important statewide initiative to combat childhood obesity.
Healthy U, New Jersey’s first comprehensive, statewide program to prevent childhood obesity, began in after-school settings in 2008. Sponsored by The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, the program has impacted more than 20,000 children ages 5-13 at 400 YMCA afterschool sites across New Jersey and is now expanding its reach to younger children.
The Somerset Valley Y, in its fourth year of teaching Healthy U in its after-school programs, in September became one of 79 Y child care programs across New Jersey to implement the initiative into pre-school.
More than 150 children in the afterschool programs at the Y's Hillsborough and Somerville branches are taking part in the Healthy U program, which involves both physical activity and healthy eating lessons. In the pre-school programs, nearly 100 children are being exposed to lessons on the importance of staying physically fit and eating nutritious foods.
“We are teaching kids to make healthy choices to prevent the onset of obesity,” said Matt Gray, Hillsborough Family YMCA Program Director “We incorporated a component into our daily curriculum that involves “Go” and “Whoa” foods. “Go” foods are healthy options like fruits and vegetables, and “whoa” foods are less nutritional choices like French Fries.”
Kids who choose “Go” foods get tickets that can be traded in for rewards.
Studies show that childhood obesity is rising, putting more and more children at risk for major health problems and hindering their ability to do well in school. The Healthy U initiative focuses on preventing childhood obesity through behavior changes and education on proper nutrition,increased physical activity and family involvement.
The initiative uses CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Childhood Health), an evidence-based, coordinated school health program,which is geared toward kids from pre-school through 8th grade.
By teaching children that eating healthy and being physically active every day can be fun, CATCH has proven that establishing healthy habits in childhood can promote behavior changes that can last a lifetime. In preparation for the expansion into pre-school, Y staff was trained in how to implement the CATCH program for younger children.
“We’re trying to “catch” our participants even earlier,” said Tina Gandarillas, Somerville Family YMCA Children’s Services Director. “The CATCH philosophy works because it brings people together for a common goal - being healthy.”
In addition to promoting healthyeating habits in weekly lessons, the program includes ensuring all of thechildren have 30 minutes of physical activities each day. “Our children play non-eliminationgames, where they are continuously moving,” said Dana Scarantino, SomervilleFamily Y’s Youth and Family Director. “We use age-appropriate activities thatencourage fun and participation.”
On Thursday the day’s events included making health snacks from “Go” foods and games.
“We enjoyed the opportunity to showcase the CATCH program in action and reinforcethe importance of healthy lifestyle habits to our families and communitymembers,” said Lee Santaromita, Hillsborough Family YMCA Children’s ServicesDirector. For more information about the SVY early childhood and school-age programs, please see our web site at www.ymca-sv.org.