Healthy Habits for Kids Pushed in Oklahoma

Grants from the American Heart Association are helping give pre-kindergarten children healthy habits.

In the pilot program aimed at area preschools, Head Start and day-care programs, the children are taught the importance of nutrition and physical fitness.

The Childhood Prevention Project is administered by the Oklahoma Caring Foundation, an arm of Blue Cross and Blue Sheild of Oklahoma.

"We figure if you can teach the children when they're this little and start it there, hopefully it will affect their habits before elementary school," said Mary Lindaman, manager of Oklahoma Caring Programs.

The foundation used research from Oklahoma State University and OSU-Tulsa to create a curriculum of nutrition and physical activity exercises at no cost to several participating centers.

The group recently presented and demonstrated activities to classes at area centers in the pilot program and provided instructors and child-care workers with reference notebooks.

Lindaman said the group is focusing on pre-kindergartners because older students often have more materials available.

"There's lots out there for elementaries at this point, and a lot of these day-care centers don't have a lot of extra money," she said.

Mandy Leemhuis, Executive Director of the American Heart Association's Tulsa Chapter, said the one-year grant will require the Oklahoma Caring Foundation to provide post-reports of the pilot's findings. She said the group is eligible to apply for another grant in 2005 to continue the study.

The American Heart Association funded the grant because raising awareness in children's heart health and nutrition is one of its major focuses, she said.

The pilot program teaches children about nutritious snacking by identifying foods as either "go" foods or "slow" foods.

"Go foods are good for the body, they help boost energy. They're the kinds of foods you should eat often," Lindaman said. "Slow foods are things that taste good. They're not bad. You can have them every once in a while. They're sweets and high fat foods."

By the end of one lesson, Lindaman said, children could already identify differences among foods.

For the physical activity portion of the program, the group provided 40 activity cards to instructors. Each card contains instructions for an engaging exercise to keep kids moving, Lindaman said.

Pam Thirion, counselor at Helen Paul Learning Center in Catoosa, said children go home with information about health and nutrition for their parents.

"It at least exposes them some to some information about nutrition. (Children) don't get to buy the food, so it's kind of out of their hands. What they eat is what is put in front of them," she said. "Hopefully, (nutrition) will become habit."