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Empowering Young Children to Make Healthy Choices in NV

| Nevada

Mar 05, 2024


Preschoolers in Nevada are learning about healthy foods and doing more structured physical activities in early childhood centers with support from University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) Extension, a SNAP-Ed Implementing Agency.  


Preschoolers’eating habits and physical activity practices model the adults who care for them both at home and at school. Early childhood education professionals don’t always have the tools, knowledge, and resources to promote healthy habits and incorporate adequate physical activity and nutrition programming throughout the school day that meet childcare licensing regulations.  


Building healthy habits from a young age increases the likelihood of a child staying active and continuing to eat healthy into adolescence and adulthood.1  UNR Extension programming can empower young children ages 3-5 years old to make healthy choices, build self-efficacy and develop habits that will last a lifetime.  The programming used is Coordinated Approaches to Child Health (CATCH). Train-the-trainer activities are provided periodically throughout the year by SNAP-Ed educators. ECE professionals from multiple sites are invited to attend the training. After the training, SNAP-Ed educators go to the ECE sites to provide implementation support, fidelity observations, and participate on wellness committees to generate other PSE intervention ideas to address nutrition/PA needs of the sites.

Here are some of the results from the program: 
Nutrition Skills

  • 66% of children improved efforts to identify healthy snacks 
  • 47% improved their ability to distinguish between a healthy and unhealthy snack 
  • 49% improved their preference for a healthy snack

Physical Movement Skills 

  • 92% of children increased their total (composite) physical movement skills score 
  • 74% increased their balance/endurance skills using timed number of hops 
  • 33% of children who were unable to cross the midline of their body on the first attempt at pre-test were successful at post-test. Crossing the body’s midline is the ability to reach across the middle of the body with the arms and legs, allowing children to perform a task on the opposite side of their body.
  • 41% of children (34 assessed) improved their standing balance at post-test, including 19% of children (21 assessed) who did not meet the 5-second Nevada Pre-K standard at pre-test successfully met the standard after the intervention (though not significant).  This specific outcome is related to 2.PK.3 Balance on one foot for at least five seconds.


  • 11 early childhood centers implemented healthy eating and physical activity direct education through train-the-trainer support
  • 987 child/caregiver pairs and 159 teachers received programming in Federal Fiscal Year 2022

Sustaining Success

UNR Extension continues to train early childhood education professionals on the importance of nutrition and physical activity to instill lifelong behaviors in young children. Additional PSE efforts for sustainability include environmental assessments using the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care (NAPSACC), developing action plans based on NAPSACC findings, identifying site champions, and facilitating wellness committee meetings.

PSE changes include organizational policies that require the implementation of CATCH twice a week (delivered by an ECE teacher), provision of age and content appropriate nutrition education books to form a Healthy Library, provision of playground materials to support unstructured play, and expanded use of CACFP. Program success was evaluated using pre- and post-tests which measured preschooler movement skills, snack identification, knowledge of what a healthy snack is and preference for a healthy snack. Improvements in these skills and attitudes can lead to healthier nutrition and physical activity decisions later in life. 

No priority indicators because we assessed healthy snack identification/preference and physical literacy. The literature links these outcomes to healthy eating and physical activity participation, but they are not directly reflected in the evaluation framework.2 

1Telama R, Yang X, Viikari J, Välimäki I, Wanne O, Raitakari O. Physical activity from childhood to adulthood: a 21-year tracking study. Am J Prev Med. 2005;28(3):267-273. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2004.12.003

2Gripshover, S. J., & Markman, E. M. (2013). Teaching young children a theory of nutrition: conceptual change and the potential for increased vegetable consumption. Psychological science, 24(8), 1541–1553.

Longmuir & Tremblay (2016). Top 10 Research Questions Related to Physical Literacy. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. VOL. 87, NO. 1, 28–35

Cairney, J., Dudley, D., Kwan, M., Bulten, R., & Kriellaars, D. (2019). Physical Literacy, Physical Activity and Health: Toward an Evidence-Informed Conceptual Model. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 49(3), 371–383.

Contact Information:

Macy Helm 

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