A couple of weeks ago I was asked if I wanted a ticket to hear Presidential candidate Andrew Yang speak in Austin. “The last time someone asked if I wanted to hear an unknown Presidential candidate speak in Austin it was Barack Obama – so sure, I’d love a ticket”, I replied. A few days later, one of Andrew Yang’s campaign staff called and asked if I would speak at his event about the importance of early childhood health education. I was honored and readily agreed.
Now I’m not sure whether Andrew Yang’s my guy, but he raised a number of interesting points and two of his platform priorities are things I care deeply about: early childhood education and access to healthcare. Both issues can deeply affect our children’s future success.
When I worked with the Texas Legislature about 15 years ago, Texas ranked in the top 5 in the nation for uninsured kids.
Today, Texas ranks #1 for uninsured kids[i], # 2for kids who are obese[ii], and 43rdfor child wellbeing[iii]. This can lead to illnesses and conditions that prevent learning from taking place and can cause chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and asthma in adulthood.
One reason Texas is experiencing high rates of obesity and low levels of child wellbeing is because we do little to help our children establish good health habits early. This is why HealthStart has made it our mission to provide the blueprints for building healthier communities through children’s science-based health education. Our work with childcare centers, health care clinics, and other community organizations helps children set a solid foundation of good health habits early in life.
How early do we start? Age 3. That’s because by the time a child is 5 years old, they have begun to develop food, fitness, and social/emotional habits that may well shape their health as adults. One of HealthStart’s first preschool teachers, Frank, is an example of what can happen when you grow up with misconceptions and poor health habits.
Frank had been a successful investment banker, but he was unaware of how the unhealthy choices he was making were setting him up for a chronic disease. He really didn’t know any better. He grew up eating a diet of fatty, processed food and drinking Big Red – basically the same food his parents had grown up eating. He was too busy to exercise. No one had taught him about the proper way to fuel himself. In his 40s he suffered a massive stroke that left him unable to continue working as an investment banker.
Although Frank loved his job teaching preschoolers, he believed that if he’d been taught lessons like those in HealthStart’s Health Education for Youngsters (HEY!) Curriculum when he was little, he might never have had a stroke that left him unable to continue with his career as an investment banker.
In fact, I often I hear from preschool teachers, parents, and clinic workers that they wish our curriculum had been around when they were children. That’s because, like Frank, many people have misconceptions about their health.
Here are the 4 most common misconceptions that we’ve encountered at HealthStart:
1. “It takes too much time to be physically fit”.
Kids 6 to 17 years of age should be physically active 60 minutes and vigorously active 3x’s/week, they don’t, however, need to be active for 60 minutes at a time. In fact, it works best when kids are active throughout the day.
At Home: Rainy day at home, no problem. HealthStart suggests having your kids run in place as fast as they can during TV commercials. Looking for something to do as family? A great way to combine learning and moving your body is to play “I Spy” as you take a 30-minute family walk around the neighborhood.
2. “Healthy food tastes bad.”
Study after study shows healthy food per se does not taste bad, but often it is unfamiliar. Families often eat and enjoy what they know or what they grew up with.
At Home: Not everyone can afford to experiment with food at home, but HealthStart has found that when new foods are presented in fun ways kids are willing to give something new a try. You can find a recipe book with instructions for easy, quick, fun, healthy snacks at http://bit.ly/hsfrecipebook. Be sure to share pictures on social media with the hashtag #hsfyummy.
3. “I’m healthy so it doesn’t matter what I eat or if I exercise”
When we are young it is easy to believe, especially if we don’t struggle with our weight or suffer from other health-related problems, that we never will have to change our eating or exercise habits, but like a car our body needs quality fuel and regular maintenance. So, ensuring we eat food that feds every part of our body and exercise in ways to keep our body strong is essential to health later in life.
At Home: The key here is starting early to set a foundation for a healthy diet and regular physical activity. As noted above helping your kids stay fit need not take huge chunks of time and getting them to try new food can be fun for the whole family.
4. Health is predetermined by your genes or other things you can’t do anything about.
In fact, social and economic factors and health behaviors including what you eat, how active you are, and other behaviors such as tobacco use contribute to 80% of a person’s health. Education is one social factor that greatly impacts adult health. Children who start their education as preschoolers and stay in school through college have better economic opportunities than those who don’t.
At Home: Start by helping your children set a foundation for good health by modeling good health habits yourself. If you smoke, try to quit. If you are sedentary to try find ways to move, preferably, with your kids every day, and if you are vegetable adverse agree to try a new food when your kids do.
HealthStart is working to assure every child has the tools needed to make good health decisions with our curriculum, nutrition education, and community health education workshops. Our children cannot reach their full potential unless they are both educated and healthy.
It’s HealthStart’s vision that through our programs children will become “health change agents,” sharing what they learn with their families and influencing the community at large by changing how we eat, move, and live together.
What steps do you believe we can take individually and as a community to ensure a future where every child is both well-educated and has the foundation for making good health decisions?
I’d love for you to share your thoughts. We are currently looking for volunteers for the summer or if you would like to learn more about our programs, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our website @ www.healthstartfoundation.org.
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