Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Changing It Up for Better Health

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Changing It Up for Better Health

Article excerpt

Walmart and nutrition literacy create broader awareness of NRPA's Commit to Health initiative

Since the launch of NRPA's five-year Commit to Health initiative, kicked off in 2014 in Miami with First Lady Michelle Obama, millions of children in low-income communities nationwide have been provided nutritious summer and after-school meals during out-of-school time (OST), and hundreds of thousands have been educated about healthy eating and physical activity habits in parks and recreation sites that provide healthy environments in accordance with Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards. Through initiatives such as Commit to Health, parks and recreation agencies are playing a critical role in obesity prevention efforts by providing access to nutritious foods and opportunities for physical activity in healthy environments aligned with standards that support such efforts.

In articles featured in the February 2015 and April 2014 issues of Parks & Recreation, Kellie May (www.parksandrecreation.org/2015/February/ Commit-to-Health-A-Review-of-YearOne) and Maureen Hannan (www. parksandrecreation.org/2014/April/ Setting-The-Standard) described the aims of Commit to Health, including its key components (summer and afterschool meals, nutrition literacy, HEPA standards) and supportive network of nationwide partners (Alliance for a Healthier Generation, National Afterschool Alliance, United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), among others) that are critical to its success. This month, we're revealing some of the exciting, behavior-changing results of Commit to Health experienced by kids attending park and recreation programs, as well as their parents and parks and recreation staff.

The Walmart Effect

Thanks to generous funding from the Walmart Foundation, more than three-quarters of a million previously underserved kids received nutritious meals and nutrition literacy as part of Commit to Health grant activities during 2014. In fact, in just one year, NRPA's 50 Commit to Health grantees served an astonishing 13,030,166 meals to almost 875,000 children attending park and recreation programs - a 1,639,749 increase over the number of meals served during 2013. On top of this great achievement, 257,411 children at 557 sites across the country were part of evidence-based, age-appropriate nutrition literacy programming, and 45,000 children experienced healthy changes in their OST environment thanks to implementation of HEPA standards.

Nutrition Literacy Leads to Healthier Eating

During just a short summer camp period (averaging approximately six weeks), Commit to Health nutrition literacy programming resulted in significant improvements in nutrition knowledge and healthy eating behaviors for all groups involved - kids, parents and park and recreation staff! While the full results of these great successes will be presented in October at the 2015 Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, here are some of the key findings:

1Learning specifics about nutrient-rich foods and their bodies leads to impressive changes in kids' eating behaviors. Children learned a lot about nutritious foods, their bodily organs and how to become healthier overall thanks to the nutrition literacy program provided by NRPA. Through fun, engaging, cartoon-based programming called The OrganWise Guys (which includes cute characters such as Hardy Heart, Peter Pancreas and Peristolic the Large Intestine), the importance of good nutrition and daily physical activity was understood by Commit to Health kids. These lessons were complemented by USDA MyPlate activities, Foods of the Month programming that included focusing on specific nutrient-rich foods each week during the summer months, and an emphasis on daily physical activity. In 2014, as part of a nationwide evaluation by Healthy Networks Design and Research, more than 400 children in select summer camps who had just finished grades four and five were asked questions at the beginning and end of camp to assess their change in nutrition knowledge and eating behaviors. …

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