The Wellness Champion Program

Children develop many of their food preferences, eating behaviors, and physical activity habits during preschool years, so addressing obesity prevention in child care centers and preschools is crucial. Yet state licensing policies, which regulate both family child care homes and preschool centers, have minimal requirements concerning nutrition and physical activity.

To address this need, the YMCA-CRS developed a new Wellness Champion Program that helps child care providers improve the nutrition and physical activity environments in child care settings, and provides incentives and support for those providers that are able to

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meet all program criteria. The Wellness Champion Program is a part of and supported with funding from the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency’s (HHSA) Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention (NEOP) Program.

Becoming a Wellness Champion

To receive Wellness Champion designation, child care providers are required to complete the following activities:

  1) Attend one nutritional and physical activity training workshop.
  2) Uphold best practices in nutrition and physical activity, scoring at least 80% on the wellness assessment tool.
  3) Make changes to reach Wellness Champion designation, assisted by on-site technical assistance from a YMCA-CRS health educator.

At the start of the program, YMCA-CRS staff employed a health educator to provide participating child care providers with technical assistance as they worked to improve the nutrition and physical activity environment at their sites. The on-site technical assistance was adapted to meet the unique needs of each participating provider. During some of the visits, the health educator helped providers conduct taste tests at their center to introduce children to healthier foods. Others received coaching on how to lead structured physical activity using the Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK) curriculum. At least one of the on-site technical assistance visits for all providers involved the development of a wellness policy for the family child care or preschool center.

One provider who completed the Wellness Champion Program over the summer is already seeing the benefits at her child care site.

“My husband and I are so happy we participated in the Wellness Champion Program. We really enjoyed the workshop. We learned so much! It was interactive and kept us both engaged the entire time. We have used the ideas that we learned at the workshop with the children at our child care. We made the healthy fruit wraps and the children absolutely loved them – even the picky eaters! We have also enjoyed the visits. The health educators have been great at coaching us on how to be healthier at my child care. They also helped me learn how to get my picky eaters to eat their fruits and vegetables. Even the parents have noticed improvement in their children’s eating. For us, it’s good to know there is someone out there for support.”

Beyond creating a healthier environment for the children they serve, this Wellness Champion Program provides an opportunity to highlight healthy businesses, and there is a business incentive for child care providers that become designated. Graduates of the program are highlighted as Wellness Champions in the YCMA-CRS Resource and Referral line, so that when parents call the line searching for quality child care, they are asked if they would like referrals to providers “that serve healthy snacks and offer structured physical activity.”

An additional incentive for Wellness Champion providers includes having initiation fees waived for providers who are interested in joining any YMCA gym in San Diego County (a $100 value).  This benefit encourages child care providers to lead a healthy lifestyle themselves, and become wellness role models to the children and families they serve.

Challenges
Initial outreach for the Wellness Champion Program took place via e-mail, flyers, and word of mouth, reaching over 2,500 providers. An overwhelming number of child care providers expressed interest in participating in the program. Due to limited space, not all providers were able to join the program initially. However, a waitlist was created and some providers are waiting a few months to get started. To maintain providers’ interest, YMCA-CRS created a Wellness Champion newsletter that includes resources such as healthy recipes and ideas for structured physical activity.

Future Directions
The Wellness Champion designation lasts for one year. After the first year, graduates are eligible to renew their Wellness Champion status upon paying a fee and agreeing to a visit from a health educator to reassess their wellness practices. The YMCA-CRS also plans to create tools that support Wellness Champions and families beyond their involvement in the program, including videos, web-based training, and ongoing communication through the newsletter.

By Josh Bariuan, YMCA Childcare Resources

This material was produced by the California Department of Public Health’s Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Branch with funding from USDA SNAP-Ed, known in California as CalFresh. These institutions are equal opportunity providers and employers. CalFresh provides assistance to low-income households and can help buy nutritious food for better health. For CalFresh information, call 1-877-847-3663. For important nutrition information, visit www.CaChampionsForChange.net.