Healthy eating habits from CHEERS to the golden years

MRU research is helping kids eat better

MRU research is helping kids eat better

As kids around the province gather at the snack table to clink water glasses, share tales of their wondrous adventures and refuel for the next - behind the scenes MRU researchers are working to make sure they are eating well and staying healthy enough to slay the next mythical monster or make it through the ever-threatening quicksand.

Child Care providers play an important and collaborative role with families in keeping kids healthy by promoting nutrition. With almost half of parents using childcare for their children, it's important for child care centres to work with families in building healthy habits from a young age.

Research has shown that eating habits developed in early childhood profoundly influence dietary preferences, behaviours and attitudes towards food that span a lifetime.

The Creating Healthy Eating & Active Environments Survey (CHEERS) for childcare provides centres with an evidenced-based tool to evaluate and receive a feedback report that will support action plans promoting healthy eating and physical activity in their own centre. CHEERS for Child Care is a joint initiative between Lynne Lafave, PhD, associate professor in Mount Royal's Department of Health and Physical Education, and Alberta Health Services, Nutrition Services with support from Ministry of Children's Services - Early Childhood Development Branch.

The project scope was to develop and validate both a formative and summative self-assessment scale designed to measure the healthy eating and physical activity environment in community-based child care programs. The online tool has been specifically developed to support Alberta's child care programs in order to promote children's health and well-being in the early years to shape future healthy adults.

With a 47 per cent worldwide increase in the prevalence of overweight or obesity in children from 1980 to 2013, and the recognition that overweight two- to four-year-old children have been reported to be four times more likely to become overweight as adults, the project couldn't come at a better time.

"A unique part of this project is that over 300 child care providers across Alberta helped to shape and build the tool. We believe this tool will help to make an impact because it was made with our child care partners," says Lafave. "Child care programs play a critical role in raising healthy children and it is important they have the valid tools and resources to assess and enhance their eating and activity environments."

The development of the tool was done with input from healthcare professionals, government bodies related to child care, those working in childcare settings and included six MRU interdisciplinary student researchers from Health and Physical Education, Child Studies and Computer Information Systems.

"Having conversations with the individuals who are a part of this project has allowed me to see that I have value in the field," says Bachelor of Child Studies alumna Breanne Murray. "That the knowledge I gained in my degree is relevant and important, and I am making a change for the children living in Alberta, for my family, and for the family that I will one day have."

In the first 4 days from its launch, the CHEERS program has already registered 60 child care centres.

Mount Royal's Child Care Centre was one of the first to register.

"CHEERS serves as a template to follow on a daily basis and provides strategies to ensure our attention to health and nutrition meets the same standard of excellence that the rest of our programming meets," says Maria Valenti, executive director of Mount Royal's Child Care Centre. "It provides respected and vetted evidence for the value and need of developing healthy eating and exercise habits at a young age along with the benefits for each child into adulthood."

"Education and the development of healthy habits in a generation of young Albertans would serve to ease the burden on a variety of social services such as healthcare, child and family services, education (outcomes), seniors care and arguably the justice/penal system."

The collaboration is set to maximize the resources available and create a lasting impact in the community.

"The partnership between Alberta Health Services, Nutrition Services and Mount Royal is a unique opportunity to combine research and practice. It's an opportunity to combine our collective skills in research and practice to create a practical tool for childcare centres to address an important public health issue - child nutrition," says Sheila Tyminski, population and public health strategy director for Nutrition Services, Alberta Health Services. "The research expertise, long-term community relationships and commitment that Lynne brings has enabled us to create something very unique. From a population and public health perspective - it really is a groundbreaker."

As the CHEERS project rolls out, work is already being done behind the scenes to expand the scope and develop a similar program for dayhomes.

Mount Royal favours an interdisciplinary approach to education. Discover the Health and Physical Education, Child Studies and Computer Information Systems programs.

Nov. 2, 2017
― Brendan Greenslade

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