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Early Childhood Nutrition Programs Receive Welcomed Help

February 1, 2011

RALEIGH, N. C. - Eight communities across North Carolina will receive funding to improve their early childhood nutrition education. The new program, "Shape NC: Healthy Starts for Young Children," is expected to reach thousands of preschoolers in a state where more than 31 percent of children ages two to four are considered at risk for becoming obese.

The initiative will work through existing community partnerships and programs to educate young children and their families about nutrition and health. Jennifer MacDougall, health and active communities program manager for The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, explains why her organization is investing $3 million in the effort.

"When budget cuts come, a lot of programs are cut. We definitely view the health and wellness of young children as critical."

The state's "Smart Start" program will administer Shape NC. Each of the eight counties will identify a center to host Shape NC, locations that will become resource centers for other early childhood educators, allowing the program to reach thousands more.

At a time when the economy is tightening budgets in the public sector, the foundation hopes to lead by example, says MacDougall.

"It is a responsibility of corporations to really do the best that they can, with all of the dollars that are available. "

She says a total of 30 Smart Start programs will receive assistance over the next three years. The first eight are: Buncombe County Partnership for Children, Inc.; Down East Partnership for Children; Guilford County Partnership for Children, Inc.; Onslow County Partnership for Children, Inc.; Orange County Partnership for Young Children; Randolph County Partnership for Children; Region A Partnership for Children (serving Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties, and the Cherokee Indian Reservation); and Smart Start of New Hanover County.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC