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Innovative Childhood Obesity Program at Community Council of Idaho’s Head Start Centers

Monday, March 16, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Alyssa Panning, Member Services Coordinator at NWRPCA

To prevent childhood obesity and diabetes, the Community Council of Idaho (CC Idaho) is piloting an innovative childhood obesity program at four Head Start Centers.  The overweight/obesity rate for the children at the Head Start Centers was 34.4% prior to the start of the program, three times the state average for low-income children ages 2-4.  CC Idaho operates 10 Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Centers throughout Idaho, in addition to three FQHCs, five affordable housing units, and five community resource centers.  These Head Start Centers are for migrant and seasonal farmworker children and their families, and are located primarily in agricultural communities across Idaho.  According to Amada Flores, Health Services Specialist, “The project goal is to create the capacity for implementing a health literacy program that provides participants with information and resources that supports a healthy lifestyle in efforts to prevent childhood obesity and diabetes." 


The $200,000 grant to implement the program comes from the Cambia Health Foundation. The Community Council of Idaho is using curriculum developed by UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management in conjunction with Johnson & Johnson, called "Eat Healthy, Stay Active."  The program works by educating both students and their parents about eating healthfully and the importance of exercise.  Children are taught about embracing nutritious foods and having fun doing physical activity, while their parents are educated on basic childcare, including healthy food options and how to incorporate regular exercise into children’s lives.  Families are encouraged to participate in the program with incentives such as passes to the Idaho Athletic Club, yoga mats, crock pots and other items to encourage exercise and healthy cooking.  One parent who was recently diagnosed with diabetes attended one of the trainings.  "He was very active, and asked many questions,” said Josie Perales, Family Services Coordinator.  “He was also telling other participants stories and information he learned, saying things like, 'There are such things as good sugar and bad sugar.' And that really put the other participants at ease at the training."


In the trainings, parents learn things like what a pedometer is, and how to incorporate it into physical activity with their children.  “The education is directed at both the parents and their children, so they can learn alongside each other.  The ultimate goal is to connect what the parents are learning to what the children are learning,” said Rebecca De León, Communications Director for the Community Council of Idaho.  Parents engage in hands-on activities that teach them to cook and play with their children, encouraging healthy, fun options.  “The part of the presentation that made parents react the most was comparing portion sizes from 20 years ago to today.  They reacted with gasps and looks of surprises on their faces,” said Mary Davis, CC Idaho’s Nutrition Specialist.  The staff encourage increased physical activity without daunting, unrealistic fitness goals.  Staff also conduct home visits with participating families to track progress and create individualized support in their own homes.  About 90 participants are currently enrolled in the training. 


CC Idaho gathered baseline data on BMI and other health indicators for both parents and children at the start of the program.  Family members are weighed and measured throughout the program to determine progress.  “The purpose of weighing and measuring the parents is to examine the correlation between the parents' and their children's progress throughout the program,” said Rebecca, “in hopes of identifying the need for education and to what extent, for both groups, about obesity and diabetes.”  Researchers from the University of Idaho taught the classroom instructors how to take the physical measurements properly, and they created the tools to analyze the data gathered.  Now the partners work together to modify the process as unforeseen challenges arise.  “This is a learning process for us, the University of Idaho, and UCLA, because we are communicating with them about how we've modified their curriculum to suit the farmworker population and our Head Start's needs and parameters,” said Rebecca. 

The program is being piloted in four of the CC Idaho’s Head Start centers: two in Caldwell (La Adelita and Casa de Colores), one in Twin Falls (Felipe Cabral) and one in Burley (Emiliano Zapata).  The curriculum is being used in all four centers, but the Community Council of Idaho is tracking health indicators only at Casa de Colores and Felipe Cabral.  Once the program has been refined, the Community Council of Idaho plans to implement the program in its other Head Start Programs.  Rebecca said, “We also hope to be able to show the program to other migrant Head Start programs in Idaho should they want to implement it in the future.”


This innovative program is making headlines across Idaho.  To read more about it, check out these news articles:

Idaho Headstart Center Hosts Childhood Obesity Program for Migrant Farmworkers

Program Aims to End Childhood Obesity among Idaho's Migrant Families

Community Council of Idaho's New Childhood Obesity Program

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