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Afterschool Alliance among NAA’s Most Influential in Health & Wellness

By Charlotte Steinecke

We are proud to announce that the Afterschool Alliance has been named one of the National AfterSchool Association’s picks for Most Influential in Health & Wellness 2017.  Sponsored by The Walking Classroom, NAA’s Most Influential in Health & Wellness distinguishes “individuals and organizations whose service, action, and leadership align with and support the NAA Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) Standards and affect large numbers of youth, families, and afterschool professions.”

Honorees were profiled in the spring 2017 issue of NAA’s AfterSchool Today magazine. According to the feature, the Afterschool Alliance was honored for “bringing together national, state, and local organizations to promote [NAA’s HEPA] standards within state-level policies and legislation.”

Across the nation, healthy eating and physical fitness programs benefit millions of children in out-of-school time, playing an important role in building a generation of young people who are invested in living healthy, active lives. To get a snapshot view of the field, the Afterschool Alliance’s Director of Health and Wellness Initiatives Tiereny Lloyd offered some perspective on the challenges and victories of health and wellness programming in the afterschool field.

On health and wellness standards

“When the HEPA standards were introduced, they were rolled out with the larger nonprofit organizations—like YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs—that had the infrastructure to be able to disseminate information about the standards and support implementation. But for the programs that aren’t attached to those organizations, what about them? How do we reach those we don’t have direct access to—especially when they’re the ones who need it most? There’s a big communication gap.

Currently, 60 percent of afterschool programs know about the HEPA standard, which leaves 40 percent that do not. I would like to see 100 percent of afterschool programs at least know about them and almost that many actually utilizing the standards. The standards are very comprehensive, so it takes a lot of time and resources to complete all of them, but I would like to see every program using some form of those standards.”

On closing the communication gap

“With health, the results aren’t as tangible as in academics. Diabetes and being overweight and oral health aren’t on a report card. It makes it hard to make a case for the importance of health and wellness programs! Trying to replicate the success of STEM advocacy and outreach would be the next big step for health and wellness. STEM advocates and programs are really good at linking the benefits of the curriculum to the future lives of kids, and it’s definitely a model I’d like to see us adopt.”

On perception—for kids and parents

“When physical education isn’t seen as a priority and isn’t valued, parents may excuse a failure in physical education, while they wouldn’t in math or science. It’s a perception that needs to be changed. And it takes root for kids. By the time kids get to high school, their opinion has almost been completely formed with regard to their physical lives. If they have a negative experience with physical education, it’s harder to get them started.”

On challenges ahead

“Getting people to see that the health of a child needs to be the base of a child’s education and not an afterthought is challenging, because there’s an idea that a child is in school to learn and not to be healthy. But a healthy child will perform better in school—a well-fed child will perform better in school! 

The biggest challenges are the [president’s proposed] budget, competing priorities, perception—and the way health can be seen as something that’s a personal responsibility. It’s not seen as a public health issue, although physical wellness in children affects the future workforce and healthcare costs of the country.”

On improvements nationwide

“There’s so much more awareness of the health and wellness issues facing kids! For instance, nationwide childhood obesity rates are holding steady and not increasing, while in some states childhood obesity rates are actually decreasing. Having more people noticing that we need to do something is an improvement. The fact that we’re even talking about it and the way funding is being directed to support initiatives that work to change the perception of health and wellness, and make it vital for our children, is a real improvement. But there’s a long road ahead, too!”