Where are the best parks?

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According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers and preschool aged children need at least 60 minutes of unstructured, active play every day.

Unstructured play (or child-initiated, exploratory physical activity) has loads of benefits to early childhood health. Playing outside in parks and open spaces promotes healthy physical activity by encouraging young children to run, skip, jump, and shake their sillies out. Playing with friends teaches little ones how to share and take turns. And what better way for a child to learn about nature than to find a wiggly worm or allow a butterfly to land on her nose?

Many families like to visit local parks and playgrounds, but how can families find out which ones are the best? 

Enter KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to saving play for America’s children. We’ve partnered with KaBOOM!, First 5 Contra Costa and East County Regional Group to create bilingual maps of the best playspaces for little ones in the East Contra Costa County cities of Pittsburg, Antioch, and Bay Point

KaBOOM! also provides an interactive website called Map of Play, a “playspace finder and a way to gather data on where playspaces exist, the condition of existing playspaces, and where playspaces are needed, so that we all can participate in improving the state of play in our own communities.”

map of playMap of Play allows local residents to enter information about neighborhood parks and playgrounds. All you have to do is enter a zip code or city and a map of play space near you will appear. There’s a mobile phone app too, which uses your smart phone’s GPS or a zip code to locate playgrounds near you. The best thing about Map of Play is that it’s user generated. That means your neighbors found the parks on the map and uploaded information about them for the benefit of others.

So, what if you search for parks in your area and don’t see any parks listed? That means that no user has entered any information yet. This is your chance to share your expertise on what you know about playspaces in your area.

If you are interested in uploading information about parks in your neighborhood, here are some key things keep an eye out for during your next visit to a local park:

  1. Is the play equipment age appropriate? Some play structures will have signs to let you know what ages should play on it.
  2. Is the playspace fenced in?
  3. Are there restrooms and water fountains? Are they functional?
  4. Are there sidewalks leading to the park? Safe crosswalks at the park entrances?
  5. Are there benches around the playspace? Picnic tables or BBQ pits?
  6. Is the park clean? Do you see litter or graffiti? Are there trash cans available?
  7. Are there other games and activities available for young children and families, like tic-tac-toe panels, sandboxes, walking paths, basketball courts, or soccer fields?

You can upload photos to the site too. Be sure to take pictures while you’re there so folks visiting the site can see how good your park is.

Going on a park outing and sharing information on KaBOOM! Map of Play is a great way to both ensure that your children or children in your care are getting enough physical activity and a wonderful way to share what you know about parks in your community. You’re the expert! Share what you know about a local park today.

Adapted from the July 2014 edition of the Contra Costa Child Care Council Nutrition Edition.

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Announcing: The HAB45 Public Policy Agenda

In late Spring we announced our Public Policy Agenda to the HAB45 Leadership Council. Today, we’re letting everyone know what we stand for and where we’re headed. 

Beginning in early 2013, HAB45 embarked on a new strategic effort to influence local public policies related to prevention of early childhood obesity. The HAB45 Executive Committee convened in March 2014 to collaboratively determine our top three policy priority areas that would become our Public Policy Agenda to:

HighlandRanchPromote Parks Master Plans: Access to safe places to move and play is an essential ingredient for early childhood health. HAB45 will advocate for city or countywide park plans that serve the needs of families with young children, including community goals to increase early childhood active play, preserve existing parks, form new parks, foster park safety, and create 0-5 play spaces.

nosodaSupport Policies that Reduce Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs): SSBs are a unique driver of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay. HAB45 supports policies that reduce availability, accessibility, and consumption of SSBs in Contra Costa communities, particularly among children ages 0-5. We are in the process of determining our role in supporting local policies that limit children’s access to SSBs, such as SSB taxation policies that generate revenue for early childhood obesity prevention.

breastfeedingAdvocate for Breastfeeding Accommodation: Breastfeeding is healthy for babies, moms, families, and the environment. California law requires all employers to provide adequate break time and a private space to accommodate employees who are breastfeeding. HAB45 will promote policies that ensure all women who wish to breastfeed are able to do so with ease.

These three policy areas fit within our existing work streams and represent the three major content areas of our work: physical activity promotion, decreasing availability of unhealthy food products, and breastfeeding promotion, all for children ages 0-5.

Our next step is to determine the specifics of our policy advocacy work. Stay tuned!

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The Truth About Juice

The link between soda and poor health is the talk of the town as the research becomes ever clearer on the strong link between sugary beverages and risk for chronic disease. For good reasons, the public health community has heavily targeted those bubbly sugary drinks, but juice drinks (and even 100% fruit juice, if consumed in high quantities) are similarly harmful.

y2515e02_1In fact, many consumers are unaware of just how much sugar is in 100% fruit juice (and juice drinks are a whole other story).

While 100% fruit juice contains vitamins and minerals, it also has a lot of sugar. Eating whole fruit and vegetables instead of drinking juice provides more nutrients like fiber, which helps us feel full longer.

Below is a table outlining common fruit juice and fruit drink names and their accompanying percentages of real fruit juice. Many beverage companies put pictures of fruits and vegetables on their product packaging to suggest health. These packages can be deceptive. Reading the Nutrition Facts label is your best bet for knowing the actual fruit juice content of these kinds of drinks. Make sure to look for 100% juice.

Juice terms

Adapted from a resource prepared for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://tinyurl.com/pz5t85o

It’s best to avoid serving juice of any kind to young children and to stick to serving water or low-fat milk instead (or breast milk for children who are still breastfeeding). But, if you do serve 100% fruit juice, ensure your child or a child in your care isn’t drinking too much by following these limits from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Birth to 6 months. No fruit juice, as it offers no nutritional benefits to this age group
  • 6 to 12 months. If juice is given, limit it to 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup and serve it in a cup (not a bottle) to avoid tooth decay.
  • 1 to 6 years. No more than 3/4 cup a day.

Healthy & Active Before 5 has a Healthy Food & Beverage Policy (and so do many other Contra Costa organizations). Our policy holds us accountable by stating that we will not serve sugar sweetened beverages or 100% fruit juice to children or adults at any of our agency’s events, activities, or celebrations. Consider adopting a Healthy Beverage Policy at your organization. If you qualify, your organization could get a $500 mini-grant to support policy implementation.

Need some ideas for alternatives to sugary drinks for your little ones? Check out our last blog post!

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Alternatives to Sugary Drinks

glass-of-waterProviding easy access to healthy alternatives for sugary drinks can help reduce sugary drink intake among little kids and adults alike. Sugary drinks, (or “sugar-sweetened beverages” in public health-speak), includes soda, juice drinks, sports drinks, and any other beverage with added sugars.

Studies show that when folks don’t have ready access to clean drinking water, they tend to drink more sugary drinks. And, when healthier beverages are more available, people consume healthy beverages more and unhealthy beverages less. All good reasons to keep healthy drinks within reach. Check out our sample Tap Water Promotion Policy for ideas on how to make tap water more accessible and enjoyable.

Need some ideas? Here are a few great alternatives for sugary drinks that you can serve to little kiddos (ages 2-5) or enjoy yourself:

  • Water straight from the tap. Tap water in Contra Costa is safe to drink. Chill it to improve the flavor.
  • “Spa” water with a slices of fruit or vegetables (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, cucumber, apple, berries, melon, pineapple, fresh ginger, mint, basil, you name it!)Glasses Of Drink With Ice Cubes And Fruits On White Background
  • Low-fat/non-fat milk (or soy/lactose-free alternatives)
  • 100% juice (no more than 1/2 cup serving per day)
  • Sparkling water with no sugar added
  • Homemade smoothies made with real fruit and no added sugars

What are your favorite alternatives to sugary drinks?

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