A National Survey of Obesity Prevention Practices in Head Start

Most Head Start programs report obesity prevention practices that go beyond federal guidelines. Using school food services, however, results in programs receiving lower healthy eating scores and in lower rates of government reimbursement for food costs.

This nationwide study investigated obesity prevention practices at Head Start programs. The authors administered a targeted survey to Head Start program directors between February and April 2008. The survey assessed whether the programs had in place specific practices related to healthy eating and physical activity, (e.g., did the program serve fresh fruit; did play areas have large open areas). The authors assigned scores to each program that measured the prevalence of healthy eating and physical activity practices.

Key Findings:

  • Out of a possible 15 points for healthy eating and physical activity, the mean score for all Head Start programs was 11.8 for healthy eating and 11.2 for physical activity.
  • There was some difference in healthy eating and physical activity practices across geographical regions.

This study was not a performance assessment. The purpose was to gain insight into obesity prevention practices at Head Start programs. The study also examined associations between program characteristics and changes in healthy eating and physical activity scores.