Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) is aimed at reversing the trend toward childhood obesity by improving OUTDOOR ENVIRONMENTAL DIVERSITY of childcare centers, which research suggests can increase children’s level of physical activity, increase time spent outdoors by children and teachers, and increase children’s awareness of vegetables, fruit, and nuts as healthy foods. POD considers design of outdoor environments in early childhood as a preventive health intervention.

The project is driven by a) evidence that young children learn most effectively (good nutritional habits for example) through hands-on experience, and b) evidence that being outdoors is critical to children’s physical development (outdoor environments are correlates of physical activity; green environments in particular support attention functioning). In addition, understanding food selection and preparation may support the development of lesson plans related to language, math, science, the arts, and other subjects.

Thirty-one centers are participating in the current program, including three pilot project sites where the community design strategy was tested and refined.

The project includes four key activities:

  1. TEACHER TRAINING on the use of the outdoors to promote physical activity and healthy nutrition.
  2. PARTICIPATORY DESIGN ASSISTANCE to include preschool staff/volunteers and help them modify their outdoor play and learning environments to support children’s daily nutritional and physical activity needs.
  3. START-UP INCENTIVES to buy plant materials and tools and provide honoraria to support lead teachers to implement projects.
  4. DISSEMINATION of information to ensure transfer of knowledge. The 31 demonstration projects act as catalysts for change by other NC childcare providers
  5. The LONG TERM GOAL is to generate and transfer knowledge to create a cultural re-alignment of care for young children emphasizing the importance of the outdoors as a preventive health strategy.

POD is supported by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.