Head Start learns to be heart-smart


Head Start students draw veggies and fruits on a paper plate to emphasize the message that these are foods they should be eating.

AIDA MALLARD/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 2:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 2:12 p.m.

The first-ever Health-Smart Head Start Workshop provided Head Start parents with strategies to entice their children to eat healthy and put away video games in favor of engaging in physical activities.

More than 23 million children and teenagers ages 2-19 are obese or overweight, a statistic that health and medical experts consider an epidemic, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

The Health-Smart workshop held last Thursday at Upper Room Church of God in Christ drew more than 50 parents and 125 children from centers at Metcalfe, Prairie View, Rawlings and the Fearnside Family Center.

"We want to take advantage of early intervention and teach our little ones at an early age to eat healthy and exercise," said Ann Crowell, director of the Alachua County Head Start program.

Crowell said the workshop was offered in recognition of National Childhood Month and sponsored by the University of Florida Health Disparities Research and Intervention Program, which is directed by Dr. Carolyn Tucker, a professor of psychology and community health and family medicine. Tucker has spearheaded many health-related programs in east Gainesville.

"We know the earlier we start children (eating healthy and exercising), the better the likelihood they will not end up obese," said Tucker, adding that the workshop was an abbreviated version of the six-week Health-Smart Behavior Program that has been shown to work.

At the workshop, children and parents were separated into groups.

While the children were encouraged to eat healthy and exercise through fun activities like music, drawing and dancing, the parents discussed ways to eat healthier and be more physically active.

Parents also discussed barriers that keep them eating healthy and exercising.

At the end of the workshop, parents identified healthy goals and shared their plan of action for their families.

Avionce Washington said her barrier is time, specifically not having time to cook when she gets home from work. Her goal is to cook healthy meals and divide them into servings that she can warm up and serve to her family during the week.

Mary Wilson said her family is already eating healty, but she plans to serve more fruits and walk 10 minutes every day with her grandson.

Jasmine Richardson said she is going to cut down on sodium and sugar and take her son on a 10-minute walk three times each week.

"I found this workshop really helpful," she said.

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