Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Early Childhood Teachers' and Staff Members' Perceptions of Nutrition and Physical Activity Practices for Preschoolers

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Early Childhood Teachers' and Staff Members' Perceptions of Nutrition and Physical Activity Practices for Preschoolers

Article excerpt

Child care teachers and staff are important influences on preschoolers' nutrition and physical activity habits, and their views may be influenced by education level, years of field experience, and program involvement. For the 360 participants surveyed, responses on 5 of 18 survey items significantly differed by education level (e.g., less education led to more agreement about difficulty with foods at school). Years of field experience significantly differed on three items, such as less experience led to agreeing that government guidelines were helpful. Perceptions significantly differed between Head Start and other programs' staff on two items about food and activity school practices. Following the survey, 32 Head Start professionals participated in focus groups, yielding 16 main ideas among three broad themes involving teachers' roles, perceptions, and strategies concerning nutrition and physical activity practices. Roles revolved around use of Head Start guidelines and checklists. Perceptions included (1) mealtime routines, (2) menus, (3) planned physical activity time, and (4) sedentary lifestyles. Strategies included (1) posting weekly menus and lesson plans, (2) working with the dietitian for classroom ideas, (3) using music to encourage movement, and (4) having large motor areas. Recommendations for future research, policy initiatives, and educational implications are suggested.

Keywords: nutrition, physical activity, preschool practices

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Recent evidence documents the increasing global public health concern that preschool children who are overweight or obese experience many health-related problems throughout their childhood and adolescence (e.g., Gidding et al., 2005) and into their adult years (Freedman et al., 2004). The prevalence of preschoolers who meet overweight status criteria in the United States has been increasing over the last three decades, from 5% to 12.4% (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2009), with one in four children of ages 2 to 5 years having a high ([greater than or equal to] 85th percentile for age) body mass index (BMI) (Ogden, Carroll, & Flegal, 2008). BMI is the calculated value of weight for height and is compared with age- and gender-specific standards (CDC, 2009). The health risk consequences of early overweight and obesity in childhood are present in adolescence, with higher risks for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes, and in adulthood, with higher frequency of severe obesity compared to children < 85% BMI (CDC, 2009; Hedley et al., 2004; Young, Dean, Flett, & Wood-Steiman, 2000) especially for low-income children (Lindjord, 2004; Wang, 2001).

Several studies have focused on how to intervene in the early preschool years to prevent this overwhelming prevalence of obesity and overweight. Because approximately 32% of preschool-age children in the United States attend early childhood programs or center-based care (Capizzano, Adams, & Sonenstein, 2000), of whom 42% spend [greater than or equal to] 35 hours in attendance (Capizzano & Main, 2005), one avenue to prevent overweight and obesity in preschoolers is to investigate these environments (Kaphingst & Story, 2009). What happens in the center-based child care setting concerning nutrition and physical activity experiences can influence the child's health from an educational as well as physical standpoint. Preschoolers themselves have reported remembering riding bikes and running when asked what they do at child care (Ceglowski & Bacigalupa, 2007). Preschoolers also remembered and preferred teacher involvement in their play (Ceglowski & Bacigalupa, 2007). Because teachers play an important role in children's healthy behaviors, early childhood programs' teachers and staff who work directly with preschoolers and their parents need to be involved in helping to prevent overweight and obesity in preschoolers. …

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