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The Start Healthy, Stay Healthy Early Childhood Nutrition Program

“There is no better way to teach people about nutrition than in the presence of food,” said Wendy Johnson-Askew, PhD, MPH, RD, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs of Gerber.

She was speaking of a recent class where young moms were served a nutritious lunch to not only provide nourishment but also to serve as an example. The class was taught as part of The Start Healthy, Stay Healthy Early Childhood Nutrition Program sponsored by Nestlé and Rutgers University. The unbranded, six-course program teaches parents of the Newark Fairmount Promise Neighborhood about the importance of early childhood nutrition. The program was recently held in West Side High School and disseminated to a class of expecting students. These students were taught about the importance of breastfeeding, how to transition their kids to solid foods, how to tell when an infant is hungry, and more.

“This interactive program had a great impact on the teen parents at West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey. It increased the students’ perception and awareness of healthy food choices as well as the appropriate quantity of food during meal time,” said Velda Font-Morris, who helps coordinate the Fairmont Promise Neighborhood program.

The program initially launched in 2012 as part of an effort by Senator Cory Booker, then the mayor of Newark, to tackle Newark’s high childhood obesity rate. The effort, previously called the Nestlé / Newark Now Early Childhood Nutrition Program, taught families about the importance of breastfeeding, how to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, healthful snacking, dealing with fussy eaters, portion control and physical activity.

In 2014, Rutgers University became the governing partner of the program and with Nestlé launched the rebranded Start Healthy, Stay Healthy Early Childhood Nutrition Program in Newark’s Fairmont Promise Neighborhood. The nutrition classes are taught by a nutrition educator who will identify peer educators to teach the classes in the future. The objective of using peer educators is to build a nutrition educator capacity in the community that will last long after the program ends.

Nestlé has recently launched a pilot program with the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) and The Woodlawn Foundation in the Woodlawn Promise Community. The first round of free classes was taught by graduate students from UAB.

“We aim to assist parents in establishing good eating habits during the earliest stages of their child’s life to improve the child’s immediate health as well as the health of future Woodlawn generations,” said Woodlawn Foundation Executive Director, Sally Mackin.

Students in Newark are definitely benefiting from the classes. “It is impacting people’s knowledge of what is helpful eating for young children,” Wendy said.

Surveys conducted six months after students completed the course found a significant increase in the number of families that retained information taught during the course.

“This program definitely changed their attitudes and will improve their quality of life in the Fairmount community by arming them with healthier options,” Velda said.

More than that, it’s helping parents feel more confident about their future. One guidance counselor even said a student used her experience in the class as the topic of her college admissions essay. Wendy said, “Participating in this class increased her self-efficacy and the impact of participating has reached far beyond what she was taught in the early childhood nutrition class.”

For more healthy communities articles, take a look at these other posts from Together Counts!

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