OGDEN -- Healthy food choices and more exercise are among the lifestyle changes being made by dozens of child care centers in the Top of Utah. Both Weber-Morgan and Davis County health departments are participating in the pilot program called "Targeting Obesity in Preschool and Child Care Settings (TOP Star)," coordinated through the Utah Department of Health.
"The purpose of the program is to help child care providers improve their physical activity and nutrition environments," said Jessica Haymond, TOP Star project coordinator at UDOH.
"The assistance from the participating local health departments has been key to the implementation of this project."
Tiffany Leishman, community health educator at Davis County Health Department, said she likes the results she's seeing so far.
"The program hasn't been running long enough to get all of the results back yet, but some of the changes I'm seeing are just remarkable," she said.
"One home day-care center has cut down the amount of TV the kids watch from 56 hours a week to 30 minutes a week. They've replaced that screen time with healthy physical activities."
Monica Gailey, director of Let Them Be Kids in Clearfield, said her day-care center has made several changes so far, including providing more fruits and vegetables for the children.
"We have also added an extra recess for the kids, so they can get out and exercise more," she said.
"The teachers are also more involved with the kids during recess. Instead of watching them, they are participating in physical activities with them. The kids are having a lot of fun and don't even realize they're getting exercise."
Leishman said one in five Utah children is considered overweight or obese by the time they enter first grade. She said it's important to instill healthy lifestyle habits before children get used to bad ones.
Rochelle Creager, program manager for physical activity, nutrition and obesity prevention at Weber-Morgan Health Department, said each day care that participates in the program is given a self-assessment to see in which areas it is doing well and which areas need improvement.
"We talk about nutrition, exercise and breast-feeding environments," she said. "Once we see where they are in those areas, we come up with an action plan and set some goals."
Leishman and Creager said each center is given about three to six months to work on its goals.
"We hope to see an improvement, but if not, we will continue to work with them," Leishman said.
Some of the changes that can be made include serving more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as playing games that include running, skipping and jumping.
"If we can have an impact before these kids get into school, then hopefully we can prevent some bad behaviors," Creager said.
"If the day-care centers are successful, we will give them an endorsement both on our website and the state health department's website."