By Margie M. Palmer
When most people think of the YMCA, they picture a membership-based fitness facility; that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
One of its branches, the YMCA Childcare Resource Service (CRS), may be one of the best kept secrets in the county.
For those who aren’t familiar, the CRS is a social service department of the YMCA of San Diego County and its purpose is to help meet the needs of families, early childhood education programs, and the child care provider community through comprehensive free and low-cost services countywide.
They also work with families and childcare service providers to help provide nutrition support and resources to preschools throughout San Diego.
YMCA CRS Health Educator Heather Ransons, who helps provide professional development to teachers and workshops/activities to families around the topic of nutrition, said her decision to attend a recent Nutrition Pantry Program educational seminar made sense.
The event was hosted by SuperFoodDrive and Leah’s Pantry and served to educate local organizations about healthy hunger relief to better serve their clients in need. Not only did attendees receive easy-to-implement nutrition education and support, they were taught how to use eatfresh.org, which helps low income individuals access nutritious food.
“EatFresh.org is a terrific website for recipe ideas for families,” said YMCA CRS Association Director of Public Relations & Communications Courtney Pendleton. “We can obtain free recipe cards from EatFresh.org to hand out at workshops.”
Ransons said she feels that providing nutrition support and education to preschools, teachers and families is important on a number of different fronts, especially due to the nation’s obesity epidemic.
“Nutrition and physical activity are a key piece of preschools and childcare within the home. If [kids] start eating healthy and engaging in physical activity early, they are more likely to do that throughout their lives. Preschool children who are a healthy, normal weight are less likely to be overweight in high school and they’re less likely to develop diseases as adults.”
Data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents, in the past 30 years. Not only are obese children and adolescents have a greater risk for bone and joint problems, they’re more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease and are more likely to be prediabetic.
“Providing training to preschools and parents about the importance of eating the rainbow, as well as the educating about sugar sweetened beverages, allows us to hit this from both sides—the provider side and the family side, which is better for children on both fronts,” she said.
Ransons said a lot of families are surprised to learn the amount of sugar that’s being loaded into beverages.
“They look at some things like Arizona Iced Tea, that has lots of sugar, but they then learn that things like orange juice or apple juice, which they see as being healthy, doesn’t have fiber so its processed as sugar into the body. It’s a healthier sugar but we remind them it’s better to eat specific fruits instead of going right to the juices.”
JoanGrace Espiritu, who serves as the Program Director of Marketing for the YMCA CRS, said one of their main goals is to be a wellness champion for children, families and childcare partners.
“We’re confident that we can prevent childhood obesity with a collective impact model that will move the dial in the future, in a positive way.”
For more information on the YMCA CRS and their programs, visit www.ymca.org/crs.
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines for over a decade. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.