Issue Brief No. 45 November 2010
The Afterschool Alliance, in partnership with MetLife Foundation, is proud to present the third in a series of four issue briefs examining critical issues facing middle school youth and the vital role afterschool programs play in addressing these issues. These issue briefs feature: the multiple benefits of afterschool for middle school youth; STEM; health and wellness for pre-teens and teens; and pathways to higher education and careers. They examine just a few of the ways afterschool programs support middle school youth, families and communities.
With a growing number of school hours devoted to increased instructional time and physical education programs being scaled back in many schools, the afterschool hours are becoming increasingly crucial to ensuring the healthy development of our nation's youth. Additionally, with students spending the majority of their waking hours and consuming the majority of their meals out of school, afterschool and summer learning programs present a unique opportunity to promote healthful eating and living habits. Middle schoolers in particular, who are often fueled by their desire to find a place where they belong and are at risk of making decisions that negatively affect their overall health, can benefit greatly from the lessons on nutrition and the increased opportunities for physical activity that afterschool programs can provide. Middle school programs across the country offer youth a mix of academic and physical enrichment that promotes positive physical, emotional and social development. By offering sports programs, teaching children about healthy food choices, supplying mentors to steer teens and pre-teens away from drugs, smoking and alcohol, and displaying other innovative ways to promote healthy lifestyles among adolescents, afterschool programs are leading the way toward healthier lifestyles for America's middle schoolers.
There is Work to Be Done to Promote a Healthier Generation of Teens and Pre-Teens
There are innumerable health issues facing middle school students. The childhood obesity crisis continues to worsen in the U.S., with an estimated one in six children (16 percent) from ages 10 to 17 considered to be obese.1. Type 2 diabetes, once known as “adult-onset diabetes”, is now becoming more common among adolescents, especially in minority communities.2 Additionally, overweight children are more likely to be the target of taunting and teasing in school, a serious risk to mental health, leading to lower self-confidence and a higher risk of depression.3 Middle school is also a time of increased independence, and with it comes the risks of poor decision-making, which can be reflected in poor food choices and in drug or alcohol use. In addition, there are many recent developments that have led to the increased health dangers to pre-teens and teens:
The Future for Health and Wellness in Afterschool Looks Bright
|Our vision has always been of children being fit, healthy and ready to learn. It wasn't enough to hope this would happen. We've had to work hard to become more intentional in everything we do. It has made a huge difference! |
– Normandie Nigh – Executive Director, A World Fit for Kids!
Afterschool programs for middle schoolers that focus on positive physical, as well as academic, outcomes are an invaluable resource for alleviating the health crisis facing teens and pre-teens. The afterschool time allows schools and community organizations to reinforce nutritious food choices and encourage involvement in physical fitness activities. With more than 1.4 million middle school children currently participating in afterschool programs and an astounding 3.1 million more middle schoolers interested in getting involved, afterschool has powerful potential to impact the fitness and nutrition of a large portion of our nation's middle school youth.11 Afterschool programs can be a particularly valuable resource to middle schoolers' health because they:
Research shows that programs that utilize the afterschool space as a site for enjoying physical activity and learning about healthy lifestyles can improve student health outcomes.
Despite Benefits, Barriers to Implementing Health and Wellness in Afterschool Are Prevalent
While afterschool programs offer countless health benefits to middle school youth, incorporating a focus on fitness and well-being presents some challenges to providers.
|We can help children improve their eating preferences and become more active, but we can't make a lasting difference without the support of their parents, our schools and our communities. |
– Cathie Mostovoy – CEO, Woodcraft Rangers
Solutions Exist to Overcome Barriers and Encourage Stronger, Healthier and Smarter Middle Schoolers after School
Programs across the country are implementing innovative strategies to include health and wellness education in afterschool offerings. Here are just a few examples of ways that afterschool programs can promote healthy living and better prepare a generation of middle schoolers.
Afterschool programs encourage youth to monitor their nutrition and physical activity habits on a continuous basis and encourage improvement. In addition, they can integrate interactive nutrition education and physical fitness learning through activities such as taste testing, planting vegetable gardens, analyzing food commercials, preparing healthy snacks, measuring fat content in typically consumed foods or visiting a local recreation facility.
The Youth Succeeding Under Pressure (YSUP) program at the New Britain-Berlin YMCA in Connecticut is a leadership development program structured around both academic learning and social engagement for middle school students. Along with a focus on strengthening children's motivation to learn and graduate from high school, the YSUP program promotes the importance of healthy living and seeks to fortify participants' self-esteem and deepen their personal values. The YSUP program includes a host of activities geared toward promoting healthy lifestyles, such as ‘Media Smart,' which educates students on how to eat healthy and avoid succumbing to the marketing of low-quality foods. The YMCA facility also offers youth access to a climbing center, pool, wellness center, basketball courts and racquetball courts to support physical fitness and stronger participation in wellness activities.
Afterschool programs can involve the entire family to ensure that the nutrition and fitness lessons learned after school are implemented in the home.
|Too many of our young people are adopting sedentary lifestyles and bad eating habits which will haunt them the rest of their lives. Our students are gaining a lifelong appreciation of physical fitness, an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits. |
– Cynthia Le Monds – CEO, San Antonio Youth Centers
The San Antonio Youth Centers (SAYC), consist of nine afterschool programs in Texas that utilize funding from the federal and state-supported Carol M. White Physical Education Program to implement a physical education and youth development curriculum. The centers seek to promote healthy lifestyles, improve academic achievement, and foster and develop positive youth self-esteem. Middle schoolers at SAYC participate in at least 45 minutes of structured daily physical activities that are both fun and vigorous, including karate, swimming, cheerleading and rock-climbing. Additionally, SAYC educate youth about the dangers of smoking, alcohol and drugs to support healthy decision making. They also offer weekly family Boot Camp sessions to cultivate parental involvement and help ensure that healthy living extends into the home.
Afterschool programs increase partnerships between schools, local governments, community-based organizations, and local businesses to enhance physical activity offerings after school.
|We look to use hockey as a hook to bring other things into their lives so they can grow up and become responsible citizens, and if we develop responsible hockey players - that's the whipped cream on the ice cream. |
– Jim Britt – Vice President, Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation
Middle school participants at the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation (ESYHF) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania enjoy a host of positive youth development outcomes that stem from one basic hook: playing hockey. Developed by former Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers owner Ed Snider, ESYHF programs are targeted to youth from inner-city neighborhoods, who otherwise would not have an opportunity to participate in an afterschool program. In addition to on-the-ice physical development, the program also promotes increased school attendance rates, provides homework help and offers a Life Skills Curriculum which encourages healthy habits and smart choices.
Afterschool programs promote healthy eating by offering healthy meals and snacks – particularly through participation in the federal afterschool snack and supper programs.19 They also combine physical development with academic and social gains that encourage overall health in participants, especially among students who would otherwise be uninterested in fitness activities.
The main goal of the School Health Interdisciplinary Program (SHIP) in Gainesville, Florida is to combat childhood obesity through a combination of middle school-focused physical fitness, nutrition and science-and-math-related educational activities. In addition to teaching children about the water cycle and food pyramid, time is also dedicated to an array of active outdoor pursuits, such as endurance running, aerobics and energetic games that reinforce healthy eating habits. Utilizing local community-based organizations and undergraduate and graduate student volunteers from the University of Florida, the program also offers ninety minutes of weekly mentoring opportunities for students at two middle schools and a host of other beneficial health education activities.
While it's clear that there are barriers to supporting healthy nutrition and physical activity in afterschool, there are many programs that have been able to overcome those barriers and are succeeding in helping our nation raise a healthier generation of middle school students. There is a wealth of resources for programs looking to provide health and wellness after school, including:
In addition, policies that encourage shared-use or joint-use agreements, widespread adoption of guidelines and standards and funding for staff training and equipment will help afterschool programs effectively promote a healthy childhood for all middle school students. With an established track record, afterschool and summer learning programs should not be underestimated as potential ‘game changers' in promoting wellness among young people.
1 Bethell, C., et al. (2010). National, state, and local disparities in childhood obesity. Health Affairs, 29(3): 347-356.
2 Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (2005). Preventing childhood obesity: Health in the balance. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.
3 Eisenberg, M. E. et al. (2003). Association of weight-based teasing and emotional well-being among adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 157, 733-738.
4 Fletcher, A. (2010). Changing lives, saving lives: A step-by-step guide to developing exemplary practices in healthy eating, physical activity and food security in afterschool programs. Healthy Behaviors Initiative. Retrieved from, http://www.ccscenter.org/afterschool/Step-By-Step%20Guide.
5 Burgeson, C.R. et. al. (2007). Physical education and physical activity: Results from the School Health Policies and Programs Study 2006. Journal of School Health: 77(8), 435-468.
6 Sallis, J., et al. (2003). Environmental interventions for eating and physical activity: A randomized controlled trial in middle schools. American Journal of Preventative Medicines; 24(3).
7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2002). Physical activity levels among children aged 9-13 years. Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report: 52(33), 785-788.
9 The Afterschool Investments Project (2006). Promoting physical activity and healthy nutrition in afterschool settings: Strategies for program leaders and policy makers. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
10 Science Daily (2009). Inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption found amongst U.S. children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Retrieved from, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090302183254.htm
12 The Afterschool Investments Project (2006). Promoting physical activity and healthy nutrition in afterschool settings: Strategies for program leaders and policy makers. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
13 Mahoney, J. L. & Heather, L. (2005). Afterschool program participation and the development of child obesity and peer acceptance. Applied Developmental Science: 9(4), 202-215.
14 Riley, R., Peterson, T., Kanter, A. Moreno, G., & Goode, W. (2000). Afterschool programs: Keeping kids safe and smart. U.S. Department of Education.
15 Miller, K.E., Sabo, D.F., Farrell, M.P., Barnes, G.M., & Melnick, M.J. (1998). The Women's Sports Foundation report: Sport and teen pregnancy. Women's Sports Foundation.
16 CANFit, Partnership for Public Health/Public Health Institute, Samuels & Associates (2009). Promoting healthier afterschool environments: Opportunities and challenges. The California Endowment.
17 Mahoney, J. L. (2010). Adolescent summer care arrangements and risk for obesity the following school year. Journal of Adolescence.
18 CANFit (2009). Expanding opportunities for after school physical activity. Retrieved from, http://canfit.org/pdf/CANFITExpandingASOpportunities.pdf
19 Fletcher, A. (2010). Changing lives, saving lives: A step-by-step guide to developing exemplary practices in healthy eating, physical activity and food security in afterschool programs. Healthy Behaviors Initiative. Retrieved from, http://www.ccscenter.org/afterschool/Step-By-Step%20Guide.
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