The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

The Child Care Nutrition Bill

The Child Care Nutrition Bill

In the News

June 28, 2009

In the U.S., 17% percent of adolescents age 12 to 19 are overweight, as are 19% of children age 6 to 11. The number of overweight or obese jumps to an alarming 66.3% for those age 20 years and over. But perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that obesity among preschoolers in the last 30 years has more than doubled.

Children that are overweight or obese are more likely to become overweight or obese adults. With millions of children regularly spending time in child care facilities nationwide, useful nutrition policies that target the very young have never been more important. A growing number of children receive a substantial portion of their daily nutrition in these facilities.

That's why the California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA) recommended changes to the Child Care and Adult Food Program (CACFP) meal-plan model that was set in place in the 1960s. These decades-old standards fell short of the USDA's guidelines for nutritionally adequate meals and snacks in a recent study, as many of the meals were found to be high in fats and sugar.

“From a policy perspective, there hasn’t been as big of a focus on the early childhood years. With more kids becoming overweight or obese at younger ages – one in five four year-olds are obese; one in four are overweight or obese – we need to start addressing the needs of this group. This bill will help the very young develop healthy diet habits for a lifetime,” says Kumar Chandran, MS, MPH, Nutrition Policy Advocate for CFPA.

The Child Care Nutrition Bill (AB 627) redefines, and in many cases, creates minimal basic nutrition standards for child day care facilities in the state. Already approved by the California State Assembly and headed to the Senate, the bill, if passed, will affect the almost 2 million children who spend time in child care in California. 

Some of the bill's specific requirements include a switch to serving low or non-fat milk for children two and older, limiting juice to one serving of 100% juice per day, serving at least one vegetable at lunch and supper, eliminating deep fat frying and limiting sugar to six grams per serving of hot and cold cereals. The bill also requires water to be accessible throughout the day.

“We’re proposing that all licensed child cares follow the federal meal pattern guidelines that are justified by science, along with some simple changes like limiting sugar and limiting fat,” says Chandran. “If passed, the changes will go into effect in January of 2011.”

Previously, obesity prevention policies honed in on school nutrition programs, overlooking the preschool ages – when dietary habits and preferences form. If effective, the new standards could dramatically improve some frightening statistics. The CDC reports that 25% of children aged two to five have a high body mass index (BMI); 17% of children ages 2 to 5 are obese in California.

“It’s really important that kids are exposed at a young age to healthy eating behaviors in child care settings, particularly when many children eat up to two meals and a snack at child care, eating only one meal at home. Thus, there is the potential for young children to receive a significant amount of nutrition from their child care providers,” says Chandran, “so it is critical that the foods they eat and the behaviors they learn are healthy ones.”

The reality is that children have access to a variety of unhealthy snack options before and after school. Supermarkets have a unique opportunity to pick up where child care leaves off and hold in-store tours and nutrition education classes which follow these same healthy guidelines. 

“Research shows that the food brought from home in kid’s lunches are actually of the lowest nutrition quality, so there is clearly a role here for figuring out how to educate parents and be sure they have a good understanding and knowledge of healthy foods and behaviors,” says Chandran. 

“But on a positive note, we are also hearing that the healthy behaviors children are exposed to in school and child care are crossing over into their home life and influencing parental shopping choices. Retailers, for their part, can help reinforce these healthier behaviors.”

The current childhood obesity epidemic is an ongoing concern for parents and retailers alike. Teaching our kids to eat healthy foods is no easy task, but early intervention is key, and the California Child Care Nutrition Bill is a positive step in the right direction.