Although there's room for improvement, many Oklahoma child care centers have implemented some healthy practices for the children they serve, according to a study released Thursday.
A recent study through OU Health Sciences Center found that many Oklahoma children are eating fruit and spending some time outdoors while at child care centers.
Susan Sisson, an assistant professor at the OU Health Sciences Center, wanted to learn more about existing nutritional and physical activity policies and practices at state-licensed child care centers in Oklahoma.
Sisson and her team sent surveys to 703 child care centers and received 314 completed surveys.
Overall, the researchers found that fruit was served daily by 76 percent of the centers responding. A total of 71 percent served non-fried vegetables daily. About 92 percent rarely or never served sugary drinks, such as tea or soda, to the children in their care.
About 95 percent of the centers responding to the survey reported providing outdoor play opportunities at least once a day.
About one-third of low-income preschoolers in Oklahoma are overweight or obese, she said.
Creating a healthy environment early in a child's life can improve a child's chances of maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in healthy behaviors, Sisson said.
“We know that setting an early path for health really is associated with longer term health,” Sisson said.
Many children spend a lot of time outside of their parents' care. More than half of children in the U.S. ages 2 to 5 are in a child care facility, she said. Those with working mothers spend at least 35 hours per week at a child care facility.
That means there are many opportunities for the child care center workers to promote a healthy lifestyle. Young children who are overweight or obese often carry that weight into adolescence and early adulthood, she said.
“There are some children, of course, who were maybe heavier when they were younger and then got into some kind of athletics or started to appreciate what they were eating more and are no longer at risk, but that is not what the majority of data show us,” she said.