Young children spend an average of 32 hours a week in early care and education (ECE) settings – and these settings are an ideal opportunity to promote development of health patterns, like healthy eating and active play. Because children spend so much time in childcare settings, they provide one of the best opportunity to create environments for childhood obesity prevention, helping children grow and develop healthy behavior patterns.
While we know these environments can have an immense impact on early childhood, historically, there was a lack of statistical data on children 0-5 related to health behaviors. There was also limited investment in early childhood obesity prevention. This all made it difficult to make the case that the early childhood period is one of the most optimal times to begin influencing behaviors that reduce the risk for obesity.
However, early on, folks in Cuyahoga County recognized obesity was impacting children in our county – roughly 22-29% of children ages 0-5 living in Cuyahoga County were affected by obesity. This led to a dedicated effort to raise awareness and elevate the local conversation around early childhood obesity in our county. In August 2014, the Early Childhood Wellness Taskforce was convened in response to an identified need for the formal mobilization of local stakeholders to take action on early childhood wellness outcomes.
In 2015, this group develop the Cuyahoga County Early Childhood Wellness Plan (read more here). The plan focused on four main areas: infant feeding, healthy foods, daily physical activity, and family wellness. Additionally, the initial implementation of Ohio Healthy Programs (OHP) was launched locally. This Ohio-approved initiative offered training and technical assistance for early care and education providers on best practices in building health habits, menus, and policies. ECE programs that chose to go above and beyond licensing requirements could be designated at OHPs. As you can see, OHP has remained a constant in the early childhood healthy and wellness efforts in Cuyahoga County.
The Early Ages Healthy Stages (EAHS) Coalition formally launched in 2016 as a collaborative partnership among ECE providers, community organizations, health care, social services agencies, businesses and families, working together to make the healthy choice the easy choice for young children and their families. In 2017, the EAHS Coalition adopted and implemented a strategic plan (read more here). There were five priorities: making healthy foods available, providing opportunities for active play, making sure social emotional needs are met, ensuring that families are engaged, and making sure health care is accessible.
In 2018, EAHS partnered with the Friedman School of Nutrition Policy and Science at Tufts University in Boston, after Cuyahoga County was identified as the next location to implement its community-based environmental change intervention. Through the Catalyzing Communities Collaborative based at the Friedman School, the EAHS Coalition participating in systems mapping processes, strengthened our Ohio Healthy Programs work, and identified advocacy and communications and key priorities in addressing early childhood obesity.
Moving toward the present, EAHS also partnered with Better Health Partnership and Healthy NEO to house and display childhood health data on the Early Childhood Health & Well-Being dashboard (read more here.) We also orchestrated a new strategic plan and performance metrics to streamline our efforts. We’re currently working on updating our website and resources to provide more robust access for providers and community organizations. We continue to work behind the scenes to engage strategic partners and reorganize our work to become more efficient and effective for the communities, families, and children we serve.