Head Start Brings Healthy Beverages to Madera County Kids

Two young boys eating a healthy lunchIn California’s Central Valley, like many parts of the country, children are struggling with obesity. More than 44 percent of children in Madera County, CA are obese or overweight. As overweight preschoolers, children are five times as likely as average-weight children to be overweight or obese as adults, increasing their likelihood of developing chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

With children’s health at risk, local leaders in Madera County knew they had to take action. The Community Action Partnership of Madera County Head Start program reviewed their menus and decided to make a simple, yet impactful change. Now, rather than serving soda, sports drinks, or flavored milk, children are provided water and unflavored milk. Children who are 4 and 5 years old are allowed 100 percent juice twice a month. Additionally, water jugs have been placed throughout play areas to encourage children to stay hydrated.

The Healthy Beverage Standards went into effect Sept. 1, 2013. Already, children are drinking more water. The benefits are clear for one Head Start mom: “Since [my daughter] is starting at a young age, as an adult she won’t be drinking that much sugar and she will get used to living a healthier lifestyle.” The Madera County Public Health Department also is excited to see how the policy’s effects will ripple beyond the 1,500 local children served by Head Start. They expect drinking more water to become the new norm throughout their community. 

As the success in Madera shows, early childhood is an ideal time to start healthy habits before unhealthy patterns are set. Current research tells us that the way young children eat, move, and sleep can impact their weight now and in the future. Drinking water, instead of sugary beverages, is an affordable, sustainable habit that can make a big impact on overall health. Strong initiatives like Madera’s Healthy Beverage Standards are helping to reduce obesity rates among preschoolers in many areas, but there is still more work to be done.

View this video to learn more about Madera County’s Healthy Beverage Standards.