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Healthy Way to Grow, the McGowan-Funded, Heart-Healthy Program, Proves Sustainable

Chicago, April 9, 2019—Aimed at helping young families make health-enhancing choices, William G. McGowan Charitable Fund’s Healthy Way to Grow (HWTG] program grew exponentially in its first five years, and its design has proven to be sustainable. That’s according to a new report by Child Trends, an independent evaluator.

Inaugurated by the Fund and managed by the American Heart Association (AHA), HWTG launched in 2012 with 175 participating early childhood centers (ECEs) located in the McGowan Fund’s regions. With technical assistance and training, the ECEs addressed four areas—nutrition, physical activity, infant feeding, and screen time—with wellness policies, onsite dietary shifts, activities, and educational efforts for children, families, and staff. Five years later, the program was active at 360 centers in the regions, plus dozens of locations well outside the McGowan catchment area.

Not only has Healthy Way to Grow proven popular, it has also proven to be sustainable, even as technical assistance to the ECEs was lowered year over year.

How did AHA and the early childhood centers do it?

Crucial to success were the wellness policies developed in each ECE. In framing their own policies, centers committed to providing a strong wellness environment. Between the first and fourth years, they reflected their policies by consistently providing more education to children, staff, and families. As technical assistance dropped off—an intentional component of the HWTG rollout—centers continued their wellness programming. Even in the fifth year, programming remained well above the starting point before HWTG was launched.

Reflecting the flexibility in the program, centers chose their priorities. Across all the communities, policies about nutrition and physical activity were top priorities.

One key learning from the rollout, according to Child Trends: Centers with higher organizational readiness were more likely to extend wellness education to staff.

One recommendation from Child Trends: Modest technical assistance should increase performance in the later, sustaining years.