Under 5 Energize programme excites minister

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2014
Under 5 Energize project
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

IMPRESSED: Health Minister Tony Ryall and Sport Waikato chief executive Matthew Cooper hear of the success of the Under 5 Energize project.

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Targetting the health of children under the age of five has benefits not only for the little ones, but for their parents and their wider community as well.

Health minister Tony Ryall was in Hamilton to see Sport Waikato's Under 5 Energize programme in action.

He liked it so much, he's considering a roll out of a national strategy to make Kiwi kids healthier.

More than 3300 children from 130 early childhood centres around the region have taken part in the $1.1 million Under 5 Energize project which teaches pre-schoolers good nutrition and healthy lifestyles. The project spawned from Sport Waikato's Project Energize in primary and intermediate schools and despite only running for 5 months, has already seen success.

South Waikato staff member, otherwise known as 'energizer', Jamie George said five language nests from the Pacific Island community jumped on board the programme.

It rapidly filtered through the early childhood centres, including the staff and captured the interest of parents, grandparents and the wider community.

The energize project promoted more physical activity, fewer sugary drinks, water or milk as a healthy drink option, daily fruit and vegetables, less high density snacks and less time in front of TV and computers.

Ms George said staff in the South Waikato language nests took to the information and became role models for the children. The material has filtered through to weekend church services where healthier options were served up on the tables.

"At one of the centres they have got a staff 6-month challenge," she said. "They are eating better and being more active."

Many lunchboxes were still "atrocious" but small steps had been made and "water is now the first choice for drinks," she said.

Mr Ryall said obesity was a "challenge" and he came to Hamilton to see the effectiveness of the programme.

"There is a lot that is being spent but not a lot that we know works," he said. "Here are projects that work."

He said a programme in Victoria, Australia, had excellent results but the Sport Waikato project was just as inspiring.

"I was impressed with how quickly parents responded to the health messages from Under 5 Energise. It seems to be working," said Mr Ryall.

Similar programmes were held in Northland and Auckland but Waikato led the way in terms of scale.

The National-led government was not in favour of a sugar or fat tax and Mr Ryall said a national health programme was on the cards.

"The last thing a family needs is an extra tax. What we do support is a whole lot of programmes that provide information for parents and consumers so they can make these choices themselves."

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