The NJ YMCA State Alliance and New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids are partnering with Nestlé to pilot the Nestlé Start Healthy/Stay Healthy parent education program in five YMCA pre-schools throughout New Jersey.
Start Healthy/Stay Healthy educates parents and caregivers about the nutritional needs of children during their first 1,000 days of life—from conception to age two.
Sue Cornell, Healthy U Director for the NJ YMCA State Alliance, said the goal of the program is to “create conditions and opportunities that develop a foundation of healthy habits for life.”
“More than 20% of children in the U.S. between the ages of two to five are overweight or obese, which increases the likelihood that they will be overweight adults. Early care and education programs, such as pre-k, child care centers and Head Start, can directly influence what young children eat and drink, encourage physical activity and promote healthy habits,” explained Cornell. “Adding Start Healthy/Stay Healthy education in this environment and involving parents can set children off in a healthy direction.”
Parents will learn about the importance of nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life as well as what to feed and how to feed infants. The education is designed to empower parents, caregivers and teachers to foster heathy behaviors in children and make informed choices about ingredients nutritional benefits and portion size. They also will be able to share their experiences, concerns and challenges with other parents and rely on program health coaches for information about resources.
Start Healthy/Stay Healthy kicks off in March at YMCAs in Hunterdon, Madison, Raritan Bay, Newark and Cumberland/Cape May and Atlantic Counties. “We want to look at the impact in urban, suburban and rural settings,” said Cornell.
The goal is to train at least 50 parents at each YMCA in the first year. In addition to bringing the lessons into their homes, parents will be asked to spread the learning in their communities by educating friends, neighbors, church members, co-workers, etc. These parent advocates will receive training and the materials to coach other parents in community settings, outside the Y.
“Scalability is an issue with any program. By training and nurturing parent advocates, we hope to see Start Healthy/Stay Healthy messages take off, flourish, and grow,” Cornell said.
Ultimately, the more children that learn healthy habits from the start, the more apt they will be to carry those habits forward and build healthy lives for themselves.