Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Recreational Programs Rev It Up: NRPA's Commit to Health Initiative Helps Park and Recreation Agencies Cultivate Healthy Behaviors during Out-of-School Time

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Recreational Programs Rev It Up: NRPA's Commit to Health Initiative Helps Park and Recreation Agencies Cultivate Healthy Behaviors during Out-of-School Time

Article excerpt

During the past two years, we've shared with you many of the exciting results experienced by kids who participated in park and recreation programs aligned with NRPA's Commit to Health initiative. We've shared how the lives of parents and park and recreation staff members have been impacted by the experience of working to improve children's health. In 2015, some modifications were made to Commit to Health's nutrition literacy component, and the subsequent results have shown the program continues to facilitate positive improvements in children's nutrition and physical activity knowledge and behaviors.

So, what did we learn in 2015? Below, we share the latest results of the Commit to Health initiative, as well as explain how this type of park and recreation programming makes such an incredible difference in children's lives.

Healthy Eating, Healthy Behaviors

To understand the nuances of Commit to Health's impact on children and their parents, focus groups were held in 10 cities as part of a nationwide evaluation by Healthy Networks Design and Research. Led by NRPA Program Managers Kellie May and Allison Colman, three focus groups addressing children, parents and park and recreation staff were held in each city. Through conversations with these groups, the healthy impact of Commit to Health was illustrated, over and over again, in cases across the United States.

The Child's View

Children involved in Commit to Health programming learned a lot about food, changed their eating and physical behaviors, and taught their parents to be healthier. Nutrition education--particularly fun activities like blindfolded food tastings--proved especially impactful, as did cooking lessons, classes about organs of the body, reading and creating new recipes and studying the USDA MyPlate guidelines. Children tried new foods and inculcated healthy consumption habits, reporting that they were eating new fruits and vegetables and whole grains--as well as eating according to the MyPlate recommendations--because of lessons learned at camp. They also learned that eating too much sugar is unhealthy and began drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages than before camp.

Many children said they asked their parents for certain fruits and vegetables they first tried at camp, and began asking for larger portions of fruits and vegetables, having realized they were previously not eating enough. Children requested healthier food preparations and shared new recipes learned at camp, thus having a positive impact on the health of their entire family.

Becoming advocates for their own health, participating children told their parents everyone--adults and children--needs to eat and drink less sugar, drink more water, consume fewer fast foods and cut down on the candy. They also told their parents that they need 60 minutes of exercise daily, which reportedly took many parents by surprise. Families then began taking more walks together, doing calisthenics and playing in the park.

The Parent's View

Taking cues from the Commit to Health lessons brought home by their children, parents began buying more nutritious foods, preparing them in healthier ways and increasing their own physical activity levels.

Parents took their children to the grocery store to shop for nutritious foods and found it easier to convince their children to eat healthier snacks and reduce their portion sizes. Family meals included fewer processed foods, more fresh fruits and vegetables and were accompanied by tall glasses of water, rather than sugary soda.

Physical activity also increased for the entire family. Campers learned they need a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise a day, and that they should walk 10,000-14,000 steps per day--goals that parents, caregivers and children can strive to meet together through walks and playtime at their local park.

Commit to Health Out-of-School Time (OST) Programming Is Making a Difference

As park and recreation agencies implement the core components of Commit to Health, they are playing a critical role in improving children's lives by providing access, information and experience with nutritious foods. …

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