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Changes to nutrition, activity at child care centres boosts kids' engagement

More than 90 local child care centres have expressed an interest in adopting an Ottawa Public Health program that has been proven to drastically improve kids' health.

Bringing the Healthy Eating, Active Living strategy to child care centres all started when a city-run daycare operator came to Public Health asking for suggestions on how to keep their kids healthier.

That spurred months of research and development to look at what kinds of foods fuel healthy activity and learning and what kinds of physical activity are best for young children, all while keeping in mind the promotion of early learning.

Public Health manager Sherry Nigro said they now have a complete set of tools available to help child care centres adopt the guidelines.

"Menu planning, kind of guidance on the nutrition for food and for beverages, things like setting healthy routines, food safety, cooking techniques, and then on the activity side there's things around (the) amount of unstructured play, structured play, age appropriate, removing screens from daycares, getting babies on their tummies, being outdoors," she said.

It's all presented as guidelines and ways to foster an environment where it's easy to be healthy and active and engaged.

The benefits have proven to extend beyond what they'd anticipated.

The daycares where the guidelines have been tested report the kids are sleeping better, playing more and they are better engaged, and so are the staff.

"Staff's knowledge, confidence and motivation also increased," said Ginette Perron, who is a Specialist with the City's Municipal Childcare Services.

The cooks they've hired have also helped develop the program, putting a food ordering system in place to save time at the grocery store and money on the bottom line, which she said has remained the same despite the changes.

She said the changes among staff and the children also led to fewer behaviour problems. She said they couldn't with certainty say whether that was a direct benefit of the healthier food and activity choices or of the improved engagement among both the children and the staff members.

Regardless, those benefits have piqued the interest of 50 other providers who have already begun training to implement the programs in their child care centres and another 90 are on the waiting list.

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