In an effort to combat childhood obesity in North Carolina, ranked as the 11th most overweight state in the country, the bill mandates that the Childcare Commission, with the Division of Child Development of the Department of Health and Human Services, draft improved nutrition and exercise guidelines for childcare facilities in the state.
“There’s no question that we have an epidemic of overweight children,” said Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, a co-sponsor of the bill and commission member. “Right now, 33.5 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight or obese.”
Specifically, the bill calls for decreased consumption of juice and flavored milk and increased physical activity outside for kids in daycare. The commission will announce more detailed regulations after the most up-to-date nutritional recommendations are compiled.
Rapp said the bill has received some criticism from people who fear that North Carolina has become a “nanny state.” But Rapp countered that the state has good reason to be concerned about the health and health care costs of its residents.
“If you want to feed your child Kool-Aid the rest of the day, you can do that, but at least the childcare facility is modeling healthy behavior,” Rapp said.
If children consume a lot of high-sugar, high-calorie foods, not only do their bodies suffer the consequences, but their future bank accounts will too.
“The average overweight child in North Carolina will accrue $28,619 in direct medical expenses by the midpoint of their career,” Rapp said. “It will add up to $250,000 by retirement. Seventy percent of overweight adolescents are likely to enter the workforce as obese adults, and they can expect 37.4 percent higher medical costs than their healthy weight counterparts.”
In addition to these figures, Rapp stated that impetus for the bill spurred from the facts that healthcare costs associated with obesity exceeded $105 million in 2006, and they will nearly double to $205 million in 2015 if nothing changes.
In North Carolina, there are approximately 5,000 regulated childcare centers and 3,600 regulated family daycare homes, which adds up to 265,800 children attending childcare in North Carolina. Of these facilities, 2,186 centers and 2,718 homes already participate in the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program — the same nutrition program public schools use.
Haywood Community College’s Regional Center for the Advancement of Children is among those that follow the federal nutiritional guidelines, said Rita Wilson, the director. By doing so, the federal program reimburses the center based on the number of children it feeds, which allows for higher quality and greater variety of food for the children, though not all costs are met.
Wilson added that following the existing standards involves monitoring sugar content, feeding the children whole grains as opposed to bleached flour, encouraging children to drink a lot of water instead of juice and offering diverse foods so that children of various backgrounds can feel comfortable and try new meals.
“Each classroom starts the day with a pitcher of water, which is available throughout the day,” she said. “The children drink milk twice a day, every breakfast and every lunch. We try to get fruit into the children with fresh fruit products.”
The high sugar content of fruit juice contributes to tooth decay, she explained.
Wilson said she believes the guidelines won’t have much impact for her facility, but they will heighten awareness of what the center serves the children.
Pam Ashe, director of Pam’s Preschool in Sylva, said her centers also participate in the federal program for nutritional and exercise guidelines.
“Every breakfast and every lunch they have to have milk. For breakfast they get either a fruit or fruit juice with a bread. For lunch, they eat meat or a meat product, a bread, two vegetables or one vegetable and one fruit and the milk,” she said of her school’s feeding practices.
Afternoon snack consists of fruit or fruit juice and bread, of which all quantities are monitored, she added.
But there is no cap on the amount of juice consumed.
Rapp added that the commission has not stated an exact deadline for the new recommendations. The additional cost of the new guidelines, if any, will be included in the discussions among commission members and experts. Depending on what the study indicates, increased subsidies may be provided.
“I hope we make sure by the end of this study that all foods offered in school settings will be required to be healthy,” Rapp said. “If this is going to put financial hardship on facilities, then I hope that funding is available to make it successful.”
By Kristen Davis • Contributing writer
Input sought on new daycare nutrition standards
The N.C. Division of Public Health will hold four “listening sessions” across the state this month to get input from pediatricians, nutritionists, child care providers and families on proposed nutritional and exercise guidelines for child care and daycare facilities. One for the mountains will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 18, at the Buncombe County School Board on Bungham Road in Asheville. 919.707.5800.