Helping Kids Grow Up Healthy: More than Diet and Exercise

National Public Health Week is coming to a close, but summer is on its way and with it come heightened risks to kids’ health (especially for kids from low-income families); during the summer, lack of activity combined with limited access to nutritious foods leaves many students at an increased risk for unhealthy weight gain.

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The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that kids get 60 minutes of vigorous to moderate-intensity physical activity per day in order to stay healthy, but it is estimated that fewer than half of US youth meet this recommendation. TASC’s study of students in their NYC ExpandED programs revealed this estimate to be perhaps too optimistic, finding that fewer than 20% of their students reached the 9,100 daily steps considered necessary to constitute an hour of vigorous activity.

Expanded learning and summer programs can and are increasingly called upon to help students reach benchmarks of healthy living by incorporating better nutrition and more physical activity into their days. But there are other factors in play: a recent study showed that social and emotional variables such as perceived social class, depressive symptoms, and low self-esteem—all of which disproportionately affect low-income youth—contribute to higher risks of obesity in children.

Expanded learning providers who hope to improve the overall health and fitness of their students must be aware that in addition to exercise and nutritious meals, social and environmental factors are crucial to the development and efficacy of healthy habits and should strive to address those factors in their programs by helping students build strong social and emotional skills (See previous post for tools to teach SEL in your program).

For ideas on how to bring more movement and health lessons into your program, visit letsmoveschools.org.

For promising practices for developing community-wide healthy living systems, check out the YMCA’s 2010 publication, “Healthier Communities in Urban America.”

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