Program to fight early childhood obesity in low-income communities launched by UWNYC and partners

Published

New York, NY – United Way of New York City (UWNYC), the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), The Children’s Aid Society (CAS), and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM) have launched Healthy Eating for a Healthy Start, a pilot project to impact nutrition policies at eight Head Start centers throughout New York City.  Working together, these organizations will build the capacity of Head Start centers to support staff and families in developing new knowledge, behaviors and policies that will result in healthier eating habits and more active lifestyles, wellness promotion and ultimately, policies within Head Start centers that encourage healthy eating and greater physical activity.  Healthy Eating for a Healthy Start is generously supported by the Aetna Foundation.

The pilot project consists of training sessions run by CMOM educators during which Head Start staff and families are provided with activities, tools and resources that reinforce strategies for practicing good nutrition, promoting physical activity and addressing the role sleep plays in a child’s overall health.  In addition, CAS staff trainers instruct Head Start food service staff on basic nutrition, menu planning and how to prepare healthy meals from scratch. 

Healthy Eating for a Healthy Start provides Head Start staff and parents with consistent and important obesity prevention information, reinforced by a curriculum that is adaptable for home.  This integrated approach has the potential to create a stronger safety net for low-income children and families.

“One of United Way’s core tenets is our commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles, particularly in New York City’s underserved communities where children are especially at risk for obesity and its related illnesses,” said Gordon Campbell, President & CEO of United Way of New York City. “With more than 40% of New York City children in Head Start considered obese or overweight, it is essential that we promote healthier food consumption among these children. Healthy Eating for a Healthy Start is doing this by working to improve nutrition literacy among Head Start staff and families. By partnering with these organizations to address the root causes of child obesity, we can work to promote sustainable, healthy change.”

“Developing healthy habits is an important part of ACS’s efforts to prepare young children for success in school and beyond,” said Melanie Hartzog, Deputy Commissioner for Child Care and Head Start at ACS. “Thanks to this United Way  partnership, families and staff in our Head Start programs have the opportunity to benefit from the unique experience of the educators at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan working with families in need.”

“As a pediatrician and a public health researcher, I have seen the obesity epidemic grow in our most vulnerable populations with serious long-term health ramifications," said Anne C. Beal MD, MPH,  president of the Aetna Foundation.  “By taking a comprehensive approach, involving Head Start staff, the children and their families, the Healthy Eating for a Healthy Start program has the potential to reverse the obesity trend among young people in New York and be a model for Head Start programs across the country.”

“Establishing positive, healthy behaviors early in life provides children with a strong foundation to grow into healthy adults,” said Andrew Ackerman, Executive Director of CMOM.  “We’re replicating our successful health programming outside the museum walls and into the communities where it is most needed.  Our goal is nothing less than a reduction in the prevalence of childhood obesity in low-income communities.”

“Children’s Aid believes that in addition to providing wellness education to children and families, we must model healthy eating by serving nutritious meals to children in our care. Our trainings provide food service staff with the knowledge and cooking skills they need to prepare from-scratch meals based on whole and fresh foods. We aim to eliminate in children’s meals the processed, heat-and-serve foods that are high in fat, sugar and sodium, and to greatly increase children’s consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” said Richard Buery, CEO, Children’s Aid Society.

The pilot program culminates with the Healthy Eating for a Healthy Start Family Festival for all participants to be held at CMOM on June 4.

About United Way of New York City

United Way of New York City (UWNYC) brings together people, resources and ideas to achieve lasting systemic changes that improve the education, income stability and health of New Yorkers, and foster a more robust and effective nonprofit sector. We believe that everyone has a role in building a better future for all. We offer diverse opportunities for New Yorkers to give, advocate and volunteer to advance the common good. To learn more about our work and how to get involved, visit www.UnitedWayNYC.org.

About the Administration for Children’s Services

The New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) provides a broad range of programs that protect and advance the interests of children, including child welfare services, early childhood education services and juvenile detention services. ACS administers one of the largest publicly funded child care systems in the country, serving approximately 120,000 children. This includes the Head Start program, a federally funded, family-centered child development program for low-income pre-schoolers that promotes intellectual, social, emotional and physical growth in order to develop each child’s potential for success.

About the Children’s Aid Society

The Children’s Aid Society is an independent, not-for-profit organization established to serve the children of New York City.  Our mission is to help children in poverty to succeed and thrive. We do this by providing comprehensive supports to children and their families in targeted high-needs New York City neighborhoods. Founded in 1853, it is one of the nation’s largest and most innovative non-sectarian agencies, serving New York’s neediest children. Services are provided in community schools, neighborhood centers, health clinics and camps. For additional information, please visit www.childrensaidsociety.org.

About Children’s Museum of Manhattan

Founded in 1973, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan is New York City’s leading cultural institution dedicated solely to children and families.  CMOM inspires children and their families to learn about themselves and a culturally diverse world through unique interactive exhibitions.  CMOM presents a full range of activities, exhibits and special performances that stimulate children of all ages.  Through multidimensional programs that reach deep into the community, the Museum serves New Yorkers from all backgrounds.  For details on all of CMOM’s programs, please visit www.cmom.org.

About the Aetna Foundation

The Aetna Foundation, Inc. is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna Inc.  Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed $394 million in grants and sponsorships, including $15.6 million in 2010.  As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone.  This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered more than 2.3 million hours since 2003.  Our current giving is focused on addressing the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity in the U.S.; promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care; and advancing integrated health care. For more information, visit www.AetnaFoundation.org.