A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that obesity was often established by age 5, and nearly half of those kids who became obese by the eighth grade were already overweight when they started kindergarten.

Researchers agree that the strongest window of opportunity for obesity prevention is during those critical first five years.

Research has also shown that access to high-quality early education during those critical years is key to bridging the growing achievement gap.

With child care enrollment at an all-time high in the United States, providers not only have an obligation to lay the foundation for later academic proficiency, but also to help promote the establishment of wellness awareness and healthy habits.

In fact, programs providing care for children from birth through age five -- especially those providing meals and snacks -- represent the single most influential point for changing the current devastating obesity trends.

Fortunately for those of us committed to this field, it is far simpler to establish good habits than to break bad habits that have already been formed. Children are born curious; it is important to instill the same curiosity around food that they have about everything else in their environment.

Where did it come from?

In what season did it grow?

How did it grow?

In a health-conscious community like ours, there are programs like NBCC's Garden of Eatin' where curiosity-inspiring garden activities are woven into the daily curriculum for children as young as six weeks, creating the awareness among children that learning about what they eat is as important as knowing their letters and numbers.

This enriched curriculum is now backed by science: a child's long-term potential is directly tied to high-quality early education that includes an appreciation and understanding of health and nutrition.

Unfortunately, it's not inexpensive or simple for providers to incorporate healthy eating and active living strategies into a school culture.

Millions of dollars have been invested in research to demonstrate that we have a problem, even more money is invested in obesity-related treatment ($190 billion annually, according to a Cornell University study published in the Journal of Health Economics).

There is a significant funding gap for nutrition education and obesity prevention during that important first five years.

Funding is required to support healthier school meal programs, robust gardens that teach children where food comes from, structured physical education, and parent engagement opportunities.

Those "first five" years have the national spotlight right now while conversations around preschool-for-all gain tremendous momentum.

As policymakers in California strategize on how to invest in quality early care and education for every child under 5, we must make sure we include nutrition education in the conversation.

Let's make a healthy choice the only choice for our children, our families, and our community....

Susan Gilmore is the executive director of North Bay Children's Center, which operates six centers in Marin and Sonoma counties.