Tens of millions of children participate in out-of-school-time programs, including sports leagues, extracurricular activities, and enrichment programs. Recently, these programs have been identified as a promising area for obesity prevention efforts. However, there is significant variability in the types of foods and beverages served and the opportunities for physical activity offered in out-of-school-time programs.
To promote greater consistency in these environments, Healthy Kids Out of School convened senior leaders from some of the country’s leading out-of-school-time organizations to identify appropriate, effective, implementable principles for healthier programs. Participating organizations include the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, the National 4-H Council, the National Council of La Raza, the National Council of Youth Sports, the National Urban League, Pop Warner, US Youth Soccer, and YMCA of the USA.
Leaders from these organizations came together in 2011 to develop a set of unified guiding principles that provide clear targets for action around physical activity and nutrition in out-of-school-time programs. These principles were selected from an extensive list of evidence-based recommendations that were specific enough to ignite change, yet flexible enough to be tailored for a variety of programs with access to different resources, populations, cultures, and environments. Focus-group testing was conducted around the country with local affiliates of the partner organizations to ensure the acceptability of these messages and to determine barriers to implementation. This feedback was instrumental in shaping the final principles:
- Drink Right: Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Move More: Boost movement and physical activity in all programs.
- Snack Smart: Fuel up on fruits and vegetables.
The Healthy Kids Hub
To support the implementation of these principles, Healthy Kids Out of School has developed a robust website, HealthyKidsHub.org, to connect staff and volunteers with resources, tools, and training materials to help them adopt the principles. The Healthy Kids Hub, launched in April 2013, contains hundreds of vetted educational resources from leading universities and afterschool programs, as well as a rotating list of products, coupons, and special offers to support the implementation of the three guiding principles. Planned future enhancements to the Hub include the addition of a grants management platform and social networking functionality that will allow leaders to connect across programs and share ideas with peers.
Healthy Kids Out of School is working with its partner organizations to implement a strategic communications and outreach plan to ensure widespread awareness and adoption of the principles at all organizational levels, from regional CEOs to the staff and volunteers that work directly with children.
Organizations providing out-of-school programs have a vested interest in children’s wellbeing. Aligning and implementing nutrition and physical activity principles across organizations will provide greater consistency in the environments where children spend their time outside of school, ensuring that they have healthy environments in which to live, learn, and play.
Regional support for the Healthy Kids Out of School initiative in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire is provided by the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation.
Funding from Newman’s Own Foundation supports the development of partnerships with regional grocery store chains to provide affordable access to fruits and vegetables to out-of-school-time programs through the Healthy Kids Hub website.