Fighting Obesity After School Hours
In the News
December 23, 2012
Our nation’s youth are getting more educated about their health thanks to the plethora of in-school intervention programs working to keep our kids active and eating right. But what happens when school gets out? Without supervision and guidance, many kids can fall back into old habits, grabbing the quick sugary snack fix when they come home, and spending hours playing video games or watching television – when they should be playing outside.
According to the AfterSchool Alliance, over eight million kids are involved in afterschool programs alone, and that represents 15% of our country’s youth. The time young people spend out-of-school, which includes before and after school, breaks and summertime, is a critical component in the effort to prevent childhood obesity. These are key periods of time during which professionals are working with our nation’s youth to help them prepare for school, work and life, and thus are times for them to introduce or reinforce lifelong healthy habits with kids.
Focusing on how children live healthfully after school hours is a project that the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a non-profit founded in 2005 by the American Heart Association and William J. Clinton Foundation working to address childhood obesity, is tackling head on with their Healthy Out-of-School Time program.
“There is a growing emphasis in the out-of-school time field to focus on quality programs that are inclusive of health, yet many out-of-school time providers face significant challenges to implement the healthy conditions they’d like to, such as lack of funding, high staff turnover, and professional development limitations. That’s where the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is positioned to assist,” says Anne Ferree, Vice President, Out-of-School Time at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
For the past several years, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation has been part of the development of national healthy eating and physical activity (or HEPA) standards and best practices, given their success with a similar approach in supporting schools. These Standards have now been adopted by the National Afterschool Association and are being disseminated nationwide. The Alliance and their collaborators on the national Healthy Out-of-School Time Coalition are now dedicated to providing the support necessary to assist providers in implementing the best practices at their sites.
Out-of-school time settings are places in which kids can initially be provided with healthy snacks and meals, learn about how those snacks help fuel their bodies and minds, and be provided with opportunities to achieve 60 minutes of physical activity per day – particularly with unique and varied methods that may inspire kids in different ways. And young people can be encouraged and supported to take what they learn home, to school, and to community and government agencies and hone their leadership skills around these issues.
“The Alliance was fortunate to be one of the first organizations to begin providing technical assistance for implementation of the standards nationwide to out-of-school time providers. Throughout the last school year and summer we worked with over 30 sites in five communities to assist them with making fundamental changes in providing healthier snacks, beverages and meals to the young people they serve, and in providing greater opportunities for physical activity. During this inaugural year, we learned that our Healthy Out-of-School Time Framework and associated tools and resources can be instrumental in helping out-of-school time providers make sustainable change,” says Ferree.
While the national HEPA Standards and Best Practices focus on healthy eating and physical activity, the Alliance, among others focused on quality out-of-school time, believes that youth engagement is also critical to creating and sustaining change, and that youth have a crucial place alongside adults in creating healthier places to live, learn, work and play.
As out-of-school time providers implement health and wellness standards, numerous opportunities are created for adult allies to engage youth, raise youth voices and create partnerships to positively affect health outcomes. For instance, youth may be invited to participate in taste testing during a site’s change in foods and beverages, or may participate in determining and leading physical activities with their peers. They may also be invited to take on significant roles in organization or community wellness councils or committees.
“Youth are positioned to play a powerful role to help adults understand the impact of the epidemic, to share in developing ways that healthy changes can be made in youth-serving settings, and to influence their peers and families to join them in taking action,” says Ferree.
Recent studies conducted by several of the Alliance’s key collaborators, such as Dr. Jean Wiecha of RTI International, Dr. Georgia Hall of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, and the Y of the USA indicate positive results related to train-the-trainer models targeting environmental change, coordinated planning, and quality monitoring for the program. This early body of research coupled with that conducted in school settings provides promising directions that have informed the Alliance’s approach.
“More research is needed for the field to understand which elements will most move the needle on healthy eating and physical activity in out-of-school time. We are excited about the Alliance’s role in measuring our approach to inform this national and local movement – and have a third party evaluation team on board to work with us on this aspect of the initiative,” says Ferree.
The Alliance has secured funding for their out-of-school time initiative and will expand from four communities to eight in the coming year, based on the promising results. They hope to keep growing and deepening support to out-of-school time leaders and staff, who are faced with challenges to support their young people and need resources and assistance to make sustainable change.
“Out-of-school time professionals are dedicated to the well-being of our nation’s young people and healthy eating and physical activity are elements of young people’s lives that they care deeply about. We envision working with them to build the capacity to play an instrumental role in leading and sustaining healthy changes across the country,” says Ferree. “Whether introducing or reinforcing healthy options and habits, out-of-school time providers are positioned to prepare youth for life."