As Childhood Obesity Rates Increase, Boise Considers Plan To Make Daycares Healthier

Sep 9, 2014

Credit drpavloff / Flickr Creative Commons

A new initiative to make daycare centers healthier for Boise children will be the subject of a public hearing Tuesday at Boise City Hall. 

City councilman T.J. Thomson wants the city to adopt his “Healthy Child Care Initiative.”

If passed, the ordinance would require child-care providers to offer at least 20 minutes of physical activity for every three hours a child is in daycare, and regulate the ratio of staff to children.

Providers would also have to limit the amount of time kids spend in front of screens to an hour or less each day, and provide nutritional meals that meet national standards.

Rebecca Lemmons is a policy analyst with the state's Central District Health Department. She has been working with Thomson on the initiative.

She says Idaho is doing poorly in national statistics about childhood obesity and ranks 52nd in the country in physical activity and nutritional standards in child care settings. The rankings include Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. 

“In 2- to 5-year-olds, approximately 8 percent are obese, and 20 percent are overweight,” she says. “We’re already working with medical providers on the fact they’re having to treat diabetes and heart disease and have protocols for stroke in children. That has never been done before.”

Lemmons and her team estimate about half of Boise kids spend time in child care. That’s why they’ve decided to target those facilities.

“We’re not only addressing childhood obesity and reverse that trend, but we’re hoping to prevent it,” she says.

The program will rely on self-reporting from child-care providers. Inspectors already go out once a year to check on health and safety standards in licensed child-care facilities. If the new rules pass, inspectors will ask providers to show daily activity logs tracking exercise and sample menus.

If they do not meet the standards, care providers will not lose their license, instead, the results of those inspections will be shared on a new website where parents can see which providers are meeting the standards and which are not.

Lemmons admits this new plan could mean increased costs and more work for some day care centers.

“What we’ve heard from providers is they understand that healthy kids are important,” she says. “They want to do it, they just want some resources.”

The city will require providers to attend a free course outlining how to meet the new standards. Lemmons says there are many resources outlining meal planning on a budget and other tips already available from other jurisdictions that have passed similar rules.

The Healthy Initiatives in Child Care proposal goes to first reading September 16 and for a vote on September 30. If it passes, it goes into effect immediately, with a one-year grace period for child-care providers to adjust. 

Find Jodie Martinson on Twitter @JodieMartinson

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