Early Learning Interagency Policy Board: Oral Comments

November 10, 2015

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics appreciates the opportunity to provide comment to the Early Learning Interagency Policy Board regarding the creation of a new Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education policy statement on health promotion in early learning.

Representing over 90,000 registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs), nutrition dietetic technicians, registered (NDTRs), and advanced-degree nutritionists, the Academy is the largest association of food and nutrition professionals in the US, committed to improving the nation's health through food and nutrition across the lifecycle. Many of our members work in early child care settings and Head Start programs, and we recognize the importance of the early years (birth to age five) as crucial to a child's healthy development.

It is the position of the Academy that children ages 2 to 11 years should achieve optimal physical and cognitive development, maintain healthy weights, enjoy food, and reduce the risk of chronic disease through appropriate eating habits and participation in regular physical activity. We recognize the importance of providing numerous opportunities to promote healthy eating and physical activity behaviors in young children.

1. We offer the following key messages to consider when communicating a federal policy statement on children's health and wellness promotion:

  • Messages should include both the promotion of both nutrition and physical activity. The messages should engage and empower providers and parents of young children to make healthy choices for their families.
  • The Academy supports the emphasis on breastfeeding in any communication on children's health and wellness. Breastfeeding promotion is needed to educate families and increase awareness of the important role of breastfeeding in improving health and reducing health care costs. Families need support to reach their breastfeeding goals. Registered dietitian nutritionists are well situated to promote and support breastfeeding.
  • The Academy strongly supports messages that encourage providers and educators to allow sufficient time to eat and not use food as reward or punishment, as well as not forcing children to finish their food. The Academy also recommends emphasizing the importance of modeling at meals, where adults consume the same food as the children.
  • The Academy supports any messages that engage the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as the guide for food and beverages served to children.

2. We also offer the following two examples of effective child health and wellness promotion and disease prevention strategies:

The Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Parent Empowerment Program is a good example of how to engage parents and could be applied to provider training and technical assistance.

Registered dietitian nutritionists led workshops with parents from low-income communities, designed to empower them to become healthier role models for themselves and their families. Program evaluation data shows significant improvement in parents' self-reported adoption of healthy behaviors.

Another program, Energy Balance 4Kids, is a school-based intervention where specially-trained registered dietitian nutritionists serve as nutrition coaches in schools on an energy balance program. Registered dietitian nutritionists provide in-class nutrition lessons and role model healthy behaviors, and have been able to access community wellness assets to benefit the students, school, and families. The program resulted in demonstrable improvements in eating behaviors (including more vegetables ordered by school nutrition staff in schools with the program compared to control schools), improved BMI scores, and reduction in minutes of sedentary activity.

3. The Academy believes that for the federal government to ensure good nutrition and physical activity, all early child care settings across government agencies should have wellness standards and appropriate technical assistance to implement these standards effectively.

One way to do this is to look to programs like Head Start and CACFP, in order to replicate successes and learn from challenges. It is crucial to coordinate between government agencies by sharing resources, expertise and best practices, in order to ensure success in all settings.

Based on the training and education required for the profession, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are well-suited to help facilitate the assessment, planning and implementation process for wellness policies in early child care and education settings. The Academy looks forward to working with HHS and DOE as partners in expanding these opportunities to all child-care and early education settings.

In Conclusion

Registered dietitian nutritionists have a unique opportunity to provide the foundation of good health to children in early child care and education settings. Providing leadership and guidance in this important area will help to mitigate the harmful and long-term effects of food insecurity and obesity. Thank you for the opportunity to comment today.