Healthy Early Learning Project (HELP)
- Need: An ongoing health need to alleviate early childhood obesity in the rural Kansas counties of Marshall and Nemaha.
- Intervention: 5 distinct physical and nutritional programs were introduced to 9 preschool sites through the overarching Healthy Early Learning Project (HELP).
- Results: HELP comprehensively increased children's physical activity and healthy food consumption and established a sustainable presence at each preschool site.
Several factors indicated a need to address early
childhood obesity in the service area of Kansas's
Marshall and Nemaha counties. An analysis of the 9 sites
found that 28% of 3- to 5-year-old preschool students
were classified as overweight/obese. In addition, no site
contained health advisory teams, and physical and
nutritional management was underwhelming.
District #498 Valley Heights and 11 consortium partners
created the Healthy Early Learning Project (HELP) to take
up the challenge of early childhood obesity at 9
preschool sites. HELP was implemented at 6 public school
preschool sites, 3 Head Start sites, and 4 district
Parents as Teachers programs. All sites held the target
population of children ages 0-5.
HELP was built on a model that had been previously
developed for kindergarten-12th grade students in the
same counties. Like its model, HELP used research and
evidence-based physical activity and nutrition curriculum
to increase activity levels of students, along with their
consumption of fruits and vegetables. The only deviation
in HELP from the original model was the age of the target
This video highlights HELP's impact in the classroom:
This program received support from a
2012-2015 Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP)
Rural Health Care Services Outreach grant. After the
grant ended, some schools have closed and HELP sites have
been combined. Today, 7 preschool sites serve 9
communities. At the conclusion of the grant cycle,
evidence-based activities were integrated into the
preschool and Head Start environments, but data are no
longer being tracked.
HELP adopted 5 methods from its adapted model. These
Sports, Play & Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK)
Early Childhood Physical Activity Program - SPARK is
designed to provide children ages 3-5 with active,
academically integrated, and enjoyable movement
opportunities. The goal is to foster social and motor
development and enhance school readiness skills.
Learning (ABL) - This program uses physical
movement, balancing, cross-body motion, eye tracking, and
spatial awareness to help children learn while moving.
Book in a Bag - This program is created to
encourage young children's interest in foods, nutrition,
and reading in a small group setting. Children learn
about nutrition by having age-appropriate storybooks with
food-related themes read to them, then participating in
hands-on food and nutrition activities.
Preschool - Designed to encourage consumption of
fruits and vegetables, Power Panther Preschool increases
children's exposure to a variety of fruits and
vegetables. Children learn about new foods in a positive
experience and learn more about how their bodies function
when different kinds of food are eaten.
Learning about Nutrition through Activities (LANA)
Preschool Program - Kids play and learn at the same
time, building the critical skills for making healthy
By the third year of the grant:
- CDC-recommended physical activity of 60 minutes per
day increased from 31% to 98%.
- Preschool sites that offered fruits and vegetables as
a daily snack increased from 52% to 100%.
- Parents who reported their child consuming two or
more servings of fruit per day and three or more servings
of vegetables per day increased from 41% to 69%.
- All 9 preschool sites created health advisory teams
and implemented 5-year strategic plans.
- All 9 preschool sites had drafted policies for
nutrition and physical activity.
- All 9 preschool sites dispersed nutrition and
physical activity information to parents.
Most barriers, such as the extended illness of the
Associate Director and the Project Director's reduced
hours due to other grant priorities, were specific to the
people of the program rather than the project itself.
However, some issues did arise that should be taken into
- Finding a time for participants of the preschools'
Health Advisory Teams to meet. This was resolved using
email, conference calls, and Skype.
- Securing nutrition training for preschool instructors
since the curriculum did not offer professional
development. This challenge was resolved by researching
additional nutrition training that provided enhancement
to the curriculum and resources the preschools already
had in place as a result of the grant project.
- Inconsistency with parents returning fruit and
vegetable consumption surveys
- The learning curve of preschool instructors working
with grant data collection, especially when it included
the use of technology
- A lag in response time between program directors and
the outside evaluator for data collection
Most activities in the program are meant to be
incorporated into the school setting, so replication is
applicable for other locations. For instance, all of the
physical activity and nutrition curriculum purchased and
implemented during the program period can be utilized in
any type of preschool environment, as demonstrated by
both the participation of Head Start preschools and
school-based preschools in the grant project.
Amanda Parthemer, Assistant Project Director
School-Business Educational Consortium
Children and youth
Food security and nutrition
Obesity and weight control
October 26, 2015
Date updated or reviewed
September 3, 2021
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub,
Healthy Early Learning Project (HELP) [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at:
[Accessed 13 August 2022]
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programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural
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