Did you know that childhood obesity is a major crisis in the United States? Check out these facts about North Carolina childhood obesity.
- Nearly 30% of low-income children aged 2 to 4 years old are overweight or obese. Older children who are obese by age 6 and/or overweight by age 12 have greater than 50% likelihood of becoming obese adults (North Carolina Partnership for Children).
- 15% of 2-4 year olds are obese, 30.9% of 10-17 year olds are obese and 16.4% of high school aged children are obese (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation).
- Children from rural areas of NC, and those of Hispanic and African American families, have higher rates of obesity (NC Health News).
Can you remember a birthday party that did not have cake, cupcakes, or some kind of sweet treat? Food can be a great way to bring people together for fellowship and to celebrate the joys of life. Unfortunately, our society’s preference for sugary treats at celebrations could be one of the contributing factors to childhood obesity.
From birthday to holiday parties throughout the year, children, teachers, and families have numerous reasons to celebrate. Celebrations are a great way for a child to feel special and make the learning environment festive so that everyone can come together to enjoy a break from the routine. Parties often center around food, such as cupcakes, cookies, candy, chips and sugary beverages. While these foods in moderation can be part of a healthy and well-balanced diet, these unhealthy choices are becoming daily norms in the classroom rather than the exceptions.
Need ideas for healthier celebrations? Here are a few ideas.
- Make snack time festive. Parents could bring party hats, napkins, and plates to be used with the regular snack.
- Encourage the birthday child to donate a book . The teacher or the child’s family could come and read the donated book to the group. The teacher or family members could also write an inscription inside.
- Wear it with pride. The birthday child could wear a special sticker (if age appropriate) or party hat for the day.
- Pass out goodies. Families could bring non-food items for the class that are appropriate for the age group (i.e., non-choking items for infants and toddlers). These goodies would be sent home for children to enjoy.
- Have a dance party. Play fun music appropriate for the celebration and dance inside or outside, and embellish with scarves or other dress-up clothes.
- Focus on FUN rather than FOOD. Family members could come for an activity like blowing bubbles on the playground or doing yoga on the carpet.
- Make it a learning experience. Celebrate childrens’ cultural heritage with traditional crafts, games, or stories.
- Arrange a treasure hunt around the classroom. Provide a special non-food treat at the end. For birthdays, use cut-outs of hats, candles and balloons. For other celebrations, use related cut-outs. Hide the cut-outs in the room and celebrate when children find them.
These suggestions will also help protect children that have food allergies. Teachers may need to send a letter home to parents letting them know that you are trying to help children lead healthier lives and ask for their help. Share the suggestions with them and encourage them to focus on the FUN and not the unhealthy FOOD.