An effort to improve eating habits
Nancy Diley, health services manager at Twin Creeks Head Start, said that of the 543 kids enrolled in Crawford and Venango counties as of February, 33 percent, or 180 children, are overweight or obese. Head Start is a comprehensive preschool program for primarily low-income children. To enroll, families must meet specific income eligibility guidelines. All of the services are free.
Diley said that because these children are so young and have yet to hit their growth spurt, their Body Mass Index (BMI) readings may not be so accurate. “You have to consider more things,” she said. “But if you’re just looking at BMI numbers, that’s what they are.”
The numbers of Twin Creeks children falling into the overweight or obese categories has steadily increased.
“This is my 19th year,” said Brenda Pardee, health services coordinator at Twin Creeks. “I’ve seen the obesity statistics increase every year.”
Pardee said Head Start offers free nutrition services to any family with a child who is underweight, overweight or obese. In addition to conducting annual nutrition screenings of all the children, Pardee said Head Start asks questions about family cooking habits and access to a stove. Head Start also tries to serve food in various forms to expand the children’s palate and offers recipe suggestions to parents.
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Director Lorie Darcangelo said federal regulations require WIC offer nutrition education, but the program cannot withhold a participant’s voucher if he or she is not interested. WIC is a short-term program, providing health and nutrition services for low-income families with children who are under the age of 5.
Darcangelo said it seems as though not as many participating families today know how to cook. “It’s very much a shortcoming,” she said. “If it doesn’t go in the microwave, it’s not going home.”
Darcangelo also pointed out that for some of the more high-risk families, it can be hard to focus on healthy eating habits and cooking when they are worried about eviction or paying the bills.
Pardee said many Twin Creeks families are on food stamps, unemployed or underemployed.
“I think our families, they do quick, easy things maybe because they don’t know how to prepare something or they don’t have the time because they’re really stretched,” she said. “They’re working long hours or irregular schedules, or I mean they have a lot of challenges, so we do try and work with them, to help them come up with healthy menus, healthy, nutritious menus that are easy to prepare.”