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New report: Afterschool is a vital weapon in the battle against childhood obesity

By Jodi Grant

Afterschool programs have a critical role to play in building a strong future for our country by ensuring bright futures for our kids—and that includes fighting the nation’s ongoing battle against childhood obesity

We’ve known for a long time that afterschool, before-school, and summer programs keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, and help working parents.  Kids on the Move: Afterschool Programs Promoting Healthy Eating and Physical Activity, our new special report in the America After 3PM research series, reveals that they also do a tremendous amount to help keep kids healthy, now and for the future.  

Parents’ views about the role of afterschool programs in improving kids’ health and physical fitness are overwhelmingly positive:

  • Parents report that nearly three-quarters of afterschool programs provide kids with food and beverages, and a decisive 81 percent of parents are satisfied that the food served is healthy.
  • 80 percent of parents agree that afterschool programs should offer opportunities for physical activity, and 80 percent of parents with a child in an afterschool program report that the program does just that—this marks an improvement of four percentage points since 2009!
  • 84 percent of parents with a child in an afterschool program that offers physical activity are satisfied with both the amount and the variety of physical activity offered.
  • It’s especially important to African-American, Hispanic, and low-income parents that afterschool programs provide healthy food and opportunities for physical activity.

With afterschool program participation higher than ever, it’s clear that afterschool can be an important weapon in the battle against childhood obesity and physical inactivity.  But there is still work to be done—the report found that many parents remain unaware that standards for healthy eating and physical activity exist in afterschool programs.  Improving awareness of HEPA Standards among parents and providers alike will play a key role in ensuring that afterschool programs reach their full potential as tools in ending this epidemic.

It’s also critical that we see continued investment in afterschool.  Though there are a record 10.2 million kids participating in afterschool programs today, there are nearly 20 million more waiting to enroll—for every child in an afterschool program, two more children are waiting to get in.  Meeting this overwhelming demand would give millions more children access to nutritious foods and physical activity, helping encourage healthy habits that kids can keep with them for the rest of their lives.

Kids on the Move makes it clear that afterschool programs play a vital role in the battle against childhood obesity and physical inactivity.  To fully realize afterschool’s potential impact, we must make the investment in programs that 8 in 10 parents across the country support.