Encouraging young children to be active and eat healthy foods are parts of a new initiative for South Carolina's daycare centers that state officials hope will mark an early start to the fight against childhood obesity.
The voluntary program, unveiled Wednesday during a news conference at a Columbia daycare, is called ABC Grow Healthy and focuses on helping young children learn how to make good food voices and enjoy exercise. It falls under the Department of Social Services' ABC Child Care Program, which pays for low-income families to get care for kids through age 12 while the parents work or go to school or job training.
The new initiative now in place in more than 1,300 child care facilities is funded by $200,000 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leigh Bollick, who runs DSS' Child Care Services division, said that money would be used by the centers to buy things like sporting equipment and tricycles for the kids.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control has been planning Grow Healthy for several years, using a federal grant of its own to pilot the program in 19 childcare centers across the state and working with partners including the University of South Carolina. The agency is also devoting two staffers to help DSS implement the educational program in the state's daycare facilities, and DHEC director Catherine Templeton said Wednesday she sees ABC Grow Healthy as South Carolina's latest weapon in the fight against obesity.
“It's another level of fabulous nutrition education for children,” Templeton said. “Hopefully, nutrition and health is the new campaign these children carry forward.”
About 13 percent of South Carolina children ages 2 to 5 years old are considered obese, according to the CDC. Fighting obesity is a major goal for Templeton, who said last week that she'd like to see the state put restrictions on what people can buy with food stamps, cutting out junk food and soft drinks. Those benefits are federally funded and are administered by DSS, which would need to ask the federal government for permission to restrict purchases.
Much of the discussion on childhood obesity has centered on putting healthier food options in school cafeterias. But DSS director Lillian Koller said that instilling good habits in even younger children may make that effort easier.
“School age may well be already too late,” she said.