Feature Article - November 2013
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Marketing Movement & Exercise

YMCAs, Schools Help Spur Youth to Exercise, Eat Healthier

By Deborah L. Vence


Other programs through the YMCA include Family Night at the YMCA that boasts additional education on how to eat healthier, giving families a chance to try new recipes together.

For instance, at family night, families can try different [toppings], such as garbanzo beans, on salads. "Families can taste it and enjoy it together," she said. "The Y is supporting wellness, and the means on how they can do it together … offering a place to be active together."

The Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Standards that Ys are adopting across the country were created to help build a healthier future for children by offering environments that have opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity in early childcare and afterschool settings.

Specifically, they will:

  • Establish a minimum of expected physical activity for children of different ages enrolled in the programs.
  • Define food offerings by designating fruits and vegetables as snack options.
  • Define beverage offerings by designating water as the primary beverage during snack times.
  • Limit the amount of screen time.
  • Encourage breastfeeding of infants.
  • Commit Ys to conducting parent education to encourage healthy behaviors at home.

And, over the next three to four years, the standards will benefit at least 85 percent of the more than 700,000 children who participate in the Y's early childhood and afterschool childcare programs yearly in about 10,000 program sites across the country.

Getting on Track

For schools that want to begin a before or after-school physical activity program for the first time, Richardson and Lawson offered up some tips on how best to get one started.

The key is collaboration or teamwork.

For instance, Richardson suggested that parents talk with physical education teachers at their local schools to discuss the main goals of getting kids more active.

"The two of you have the same goal, [and you can talk about] how you can work together to reach those goals," Richardson said.

Meanwhile, Lawson said the collaboration with a local Y and a school is important, too.

For example, "You can work on building and providing what might be a walking trail," she said, adding that you can talk about what you need and what you would like to be working on together.

The fact is that chronic disease affects one in two adults, which is why such programs are more important than ever.

In terms of the main issue affecting kids' health, Lawson said that it's complex. "There are contributing factors," she said. "With children, it needs to be happening in our communities. Healthy living starts with the individual, and then moves into or extends to the family.

"[We're working to] reduce the risks [of chronic disease]. We have programming [to address] diabetes, or those at risk for developing diabetes; programming to reduce becoming an overweight or obese adult. There are Ys that do programming for people with Parkinson's disease … cancer prevention, cardiac programs," she said.

"Your wellness is more about managing, too, or preventing disease," she added.