Meet Our Partners – Katharine Mason

We want you to get to know the people who make Healthy & Active Before 5 the powerful collaboration that it is. In this series, we’ll be speaking with members of our Executive Committee and other partners who bring unique perspectives on early childhood health to our table. Today we’re speaking with Katharine Mason, Division Manager of Contra Costa County Community Services Bureau. She has served as an Officer for Healthy & Active Before 5 since 2015, and is now a Vice Chair of our Executive Committee. 


What do you do and your organization do?

Since 2011 I’ve had the privilege of overseeing the direct operations of 15 Head Start/Early Head Start/Title 5 development centers in our county, and the comprehensive services provided to our families. We at EHSD Community Services Bureau (CSB) provide full-day/full-year and part-day/part year child development services to over 2,200 children county-wide. Head Start is a nationwide program that began in 1965 to provide school-readiness services through a holistic approach by providing support to the whole child (physical health, social-emotional wellness, nutrition, etc.) and her/his family. The cornerstone of our work is parent engagement. Parents are a child’s first teachers, so we believe that positive outcomes for a child happen primarily in partnership with parents. Head Start works throughout the year to engage families in that partnership.

I began working at CSB in 2005 as a member of the Comprehensive Services team, where I worked with families directly and later with our childcare partners to support their implementation of Federal and State subsidized child care programs. I’ve also served as an analyst with CSB where I helped to establish some of the systems for our program.

How did you get into your current field?

I came to Head Start about 10 years ago. I didn’t have much experience in early care and education, but I immediately fell in love with Head Start and its comprehensive services for families. I came from a background in nonprofit management, more specifically from organizations that address the needs of vulnerable children and families. Essentially, I’ve always worked with this population. I served in the Peace Corps in a rural area of Tunisia in the 1990’s, worked with the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program to represent dependent and delinquent children in court, and worked in programs that address the needs of pregnant and parenting teens. In 2001 I earned a Masters in Public Administration to better my skills in administering programs that serve our most needy families. This diverse background serving vulnerable children and families naturally led me to CSB and Head Start where I could put my experience and knowledge to work!

Why are you passionate about public health for children?

Healthy brains and bodies are the foundation for children to be ready for the challenges ahead, in life and school. Good health and nutrition are so essential in the first five years for brain development and to establish good lifetime habits. Dental care is essential for school readiness – how can you concentrate on learning and play if your mouth is hurting? Access to safe outdoor play spaces is also essential for young developing bodies. With the necessary foundation in place, children and their families can begin to take full advantage of educational and other opportunities. These early services have lifelong benefits. And for children who don’t have the opportunity to receive them, the effects can impact them for many years.

What is one thing you would like to see changed or improved for children in Contra Costa County?

That’s a big question. I would really like to see improved access to healthy, fresh foods and the elimination of “food deserts” in low-income areas, as well as the overall reduction of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. I’d also like to see safe play spaces in every community and neighborhood. From my childcare perspective, I’d love to see an expansion of accessible, affordable, high-quality childcare so all families that need and want it can have it. We have over 6,000 children on the wait-list for childcare!

What do you like best about being a part of Healthy & Active Before 5?

I’ve been involved with HAB45 for 2.5 years now. Since joining, I feel like my own knowledge of the health needs of children here in this county has grown and strengthened. I’m so much more aware of the variety of ways that many entities are working together to address these needs and breakdown some of the barriers to accessing opportunities. I’ve really appreciated being a part of the collaborative, and I’m so proud of all of the work that HAB45 has done. I look forward to much more!

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What We’re Reading – 3/9/16

Helping Latino Children Reach a Healthy Weight by Kindergarten

Latino youths in the United States are more likely to be overweight or obese than their white peers. There are countless factors that may directly impact obesity rates or act as barriers or facilitators to healthy weight in this population, and this implies that the problem can be approached from many different directions. This comprehensive research review from Salud America! & The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Research Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity Among Latino Children summarizes current, peer-reviewed scientific literature regarding the influence of some of the many factors that may contribute to this disparity, such as:

  • Breastfeeding policies
  • Physical activity during pregnancy
  • Healthy eating and physical activity during childcare
  • Paid maternity leave
  • Pre-delivery strategies
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Formula marketing
  • Health care insurance

How the Food Industry Engineers the Need to Eat

Jeremy Hobson of Here & Now interviews investigative reporter Michael Moss, author of “Salt Sugar Fat.” Moss spoke with food industry professionals about how consuming processed foods causes children to reject healthier options like fresh fruits and vegetables. Their palates are inundated with sugar, and they essentially learn that food should taste excessively sweet and salty.

“[Processed foods] create this expectation in us that everything should be sweet and this is especially difficult for kids who are hard-wired to the sweet taste. So when you drag their little butts over to the produce aisle and try to get them to eat some of that stuff we all should be eating more of, brussels sprouts and broccoli, which have some of the other basic tastes like sour and bitter, you get a rebellion on your hands.”

7 Parent-Tested Tips to Unplug and Play

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends discouraging any screen time for children under the age of two, and less than two hours a day of educational programming for older children. However, according to a study conducted by CommonSense Media, on any given day 29% of babies younger than 1 are using screens for an average of 90 minutes. Toddler screen time is linked to BMI, exposure to junk food advertising, and irregular sleep patterns. For parents looking to unplug, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has compiled these tried and true tips for decreasing screen time for children and encouraging more interactive forms of play.

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Snapshot of Success 2015

2015 was a busy and successful year for Healthy & Active Before 5. We’re proud of our collaborative’s accomplishments and we are excited to share our successes with you!

Snapshot 2015

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What We’re Reading – 2/17/16

Photo Credit: (flickr/Stacy Spensley)

Photo Credit: (flickr/Stacy Spensley)

The Ugly Reality of a Too-Short Maternity Leave – Refinery 29

In this election cycle, candidates are discussing family leave more openly than ever before. The U.S. is still the only developed nation that does not mandate paid maternity leave, and many new parents cannot take time off to care for their families without risking economic security. Some politicians assert that the country cannot afford a national paid leave program, despite plentiful evidence to the contrary. Under current workplace conditions 88% of women get no paid leave at all, and nearly 25% return to work within two weeks of giving birth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their baby’s life, but this is nearly impossible for many working mothers to do. Full support of a woman’s right to breastfeed should include her right to do so without risking her job.

Parent-Aimed TV Ads for Children’s Beverages Pour On Sugar Coated Health Messages

A recent study featured in Pediatrics, “Children’s Food and Beverage Promotion on Television to Parents,” looked at commercials for children’s foods and beverages aired on television for a year and sorted them into ads aimed at children and ads aimed at parents. While child-directed ads used fun and adventure to sell products, parent-directed ads tended to use themes of family bonding, and portrayed many nutritionally questionable foods as healthy.  “This marketing strategy consists of a one-two punch, with the children’s ads aiming to increase the likelihood of a purchase request from the child, and the parent advertising aiming to undermine the parent’s ability to say ‘no’ to the request,” said Diane Gilbert-Diamond, a senior author of the study.

When it comes to infant language development, not all toys are created equal

Researchers from Northern Arizona University posed a question: what role do toys play in infant language learning? Their study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, examined the types of toys used by infants during play and the quality of the resulting parent-child communication. Twenty six parent-infant groups were provided with electronic “language development” toys, traditional toys (blocks, for instance), and books. As they played, researchers recorded and analyzed their conversations. The results suggest that play with books and traditional toys is far superior to play with electronic toys in promoting high-quality, parent-child communication. Parents spoke far fewer words to their child when playing with electronic toys in comparison to play with books (39.62 words per minute vs. 66.89). This led researchers to suggest that electronic toys for infants be discouraged in favor of traditional toys and books, which better foster parent-child communication.

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