Denver preschoolers are getting a jump on healthy living thanks to a new partnership between the Colorado School of Public Health and the City and County of Denver aimed at curbing obesity through proper diet and exercise.
“Denver’s children deserve a healthy head start,” said Mayor Michael Hancock. “As Mayor I made a commitment to Denver families that we will improve educational outcomes for our children. By ensuring that Denver’s youngest residents are healthy, they will be ready to learn.”
The partnership is funded by a $1 million grant from the Colorado Health Foundation designed to create the “Culture of Wellness in Preschools” program within several Denver area preschools. The program connects the school of public health’s Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center (RMPRC) with Denver Great Kids Head Start to increase daily healthy eating and physical activity among students, staff, and parents.
“We are thrilled to join the mayor in announcing the new program for Denver’s Head Start preschools and their families,” said Jini Puma, Ph.D., RMPRC project director.
Like many states, Colorado is seeing a rise in childhood obesity. According to Puma, children who are obese in their preschool years are more likely to become obese adolescents and adults. They are also at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
In an effort to address this, the new program will provide schools with nutrition education classes, structured physical activity opportunities, improvements to school policies and environments and health promotion training for parents and school staff along with other services.
Puma’s team partnered with Head Start Health Administrator, Gloria Richardson, and more than 200 Denver parents and preschool staff to identify barriers families and schools face in raising healthy children.
The team was told that a lack of preschool time devoted to wellness and a lack of playground space present barriers to promoting healthy living. They also found that families face individual barriers to health including lack of time, financial resources, transportation, education, support, and motivation when setting a healthy example for their children.
“It is hard to get motivated at home,” said one parent. “If we brought [wellness] classes to Head Start, it would be easier to come to the school and be healthy.”
The three-year program will run through 26 Denver preschools and be jointly administered by the Denver’ Great Kids Head Start program and the RMPRC.