Better nutrition from the start

Published 10:12 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2013

From left, Betty Jo Harville, assistant director of Growing Up at Obici, Marissa Spady, nutrition education specialist with The Planning Council, and Robin Abbey, director of Growing Up at Obici, show off some of the educational tools and incentives they have used in a program to improve the health of children in private daycares in the area.

From left, Betty Jo Harville, assistant director of Growing Up at Obici, Marissa Spady, nutrition education specialist with The Planning Council, and Robin Abbey, director of Growing Up at Obici, show off some of the educational tools and incentives they have used in a program to improve the health of children in private daycares in the area.

A number of private daycares in Suffolk are making healthy changes thanks to an Obici Healthcare Foundation-funded grant program led by The Planning Council.

The program aims to help improve the child obesity rate by improving the nutrition and physical activity offered in childcare environments.

“Gradually, we’re going to make steps to improve the child obesity rate,” said Marissa Spady, nutrition education specialist with The Planning Council. “I think we’ll start to see a drop because we’re starting to change the mindset of the adults.”

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Spady has met with dozens of childcare centers in Suffolk, Franklin, and Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. She talks to the centers, which participate voluntarily, about their current practices and how they can improve their practices.

The Growing Up at Obici center at Sentara Obici Hospital, which is open only to Sentara employees, has implemented many of the recommendations.

For example, the center switched to 1-percent milk for children over 2 years old. It also started offering more vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

Children have been receptive to the change and even have been encouraging their parents to buy healthier items to eat at home, director Robin Abbey said.

The center also has implemented fitness programs that teach children about their bodies and has offered swimming lessons, grocery store tours with dietitians and more. It recently purchased a special piece of playground equipment to offer more physical activity opportunity to toddlers during playtime.

“These are the changes that are truly making an impact,” Spady said. Just the milk change is “a lot of fat they cut out,” she added.

The program will pay dividends far into the future, Spady said, not only because it is educating adults but also because the children are learning healthy habits.

“It will pay off down the road,” she said.

As part of the two grants from the Obici Healthcare Foundation, which have totaled about $149,000, The Planning Council also took body mass index measurements from children in the centers whose parents gave their permission.

Out of the 681 children assessed, 32 percent were overweight or obese, with 12 percent being obese, according to Spady. About 66 percent were in the normal range, while 2 percent were underweight.

Spady said families were offered visits with dietitians and free six-month family memberships to the YMCA — a benefit that went away if they didn’t use it.

“It’s the whole family, so the whole family can change,” Spady said.

The Growing Up at Obici center is offering a “What’s In Your Drink?” program on Nov. 6 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. It is open to the public. RSVPs at 622-9268 are required.