For over 15 years, our nation has found itself in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Educating children about healthy lifestyle choices has become increasingly important as the media projects conflicting messages about body image and health. In a sea of misinformation, one may wonder, “Where can families get reliable health education?” Parents and schools have a vital role to play in the distribution of credible and targeted health education. Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, is situated in the heart of Wake County. The Wake County PTA Council received a grant from the National PTA through Together Counts to educate families and teachers about engaging our youngest citizens in healthy eating and physical activity behaviors. The “Smart from the Start” Community Outreach Grant is aimed at empowering Pre-K children to live healthy lives from the very beginning.
Wake County PTA Council is partnering with the Alice Aycock Poe Center for Health Education to ensure that all of the grant requirements are met with maximum impact. A coalition of local stakeholders has been assembled to raise awareness about the importance of energy balance and to assess nutritional food availability and physical activity options around the four involved preschools. The coalition consists of the Poe Center, Telamon Head Start, Marbles Kids Museum, Motheread, Knightdale Parks and Recreation, Wake Early College HOSA, and Wake County PTA Council.
Family events are organized at three Head Start programs and one preschool within Wake County to discuss the topic of energy balance. The Energy Balance Pre-K Program is designed to facilitate teachers in showing students the steps to make healthy choices about food and activity. Poe Center Health Educators present activities from the curriculum at the family events. Participants engage in family-focused physical activities and then learn about healthy energy input and the MyPlate. Resources for educators are available at www.togethercounts.com/sfts/home.
The preschools which have held family events are eligible for free nutrition and physical activity health education because the Poe Center is a SNAP-Ed implementing agency in North Carolina. Following the family events, health educators teach students a series of eight lessons including compiled activities from the Energy Balance Pre-K curriculum. To end the grant cycle with a bang, families from the preschool events, surrounding elementary schools, and PTA members will be invited to attend an event at Marbles Kids Museum on March 8, 2015. The Poe Center will lead energy balance activities within the museum including physical activity games and healthy cooking demos (food provided by Relay Foods). During the event, Wake County PTA Council leaders will have an opportunity to connect with preschool families and attend a workshop on incorporating energy balance into education.
National PTA members can assist in these efforts by providing resources to teachers and families about health education. Also, do not underestimate the power of combined efforts and resource-sharing with local stakeholders. It is amazing to see the work that the Wake County “Smart from the Start” Coalition has already accomplished together thus far!
Maggie Perkins is a Poe Center Senior Nutrition Health Educator.