By Heidi Ham, Vice President, Programs and Strategy at National AfterSchool Association.
Studies show that healthy, active children learn better, perform better academically and experience fewer behavioral problems. Afterschool and summer learning programs are well-positioned to be key partners in a comprehensive effort to help children grow up healthy, providing young people with access to nutritious foods promoting healthy habits and physically fit students.
Until 2011, when NAA adopted Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) Standards for OST, the field lacked a comprehensive set of operational standards for healthy eating and physical activity. Since then, the standards have been disseminated to tens of thousands—and research and evaluation to monitor their uptake is ongoing. In 2018 the standards were refreshed, resulting in a streamlined, more user-friendly Version 2.0.
Version 2.0 includes the five content areas and an accompanying set of 48 standards:
The standards provide a research-based framework for understanding and measuring a program’s healthy eating and physical activity and planning for improvement. Implementing the standards and creating continuous improvement plans in these content areas will improve program quality and youth outcomes.
“The HEPA standards are one of the resources we’re sharing with our Healthy Schools awardees. The standards provide a comprehensive vision of how out-of-school-time programs can make physical activity and nutritious foods and beverages part of their day-to-day,” said Sarah Sliwa, PhD., Health Scientist in the School Health Branch, part of the Division of Population Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The standards address not only the quality of meals, snacks and opportunities for movement, but also the broader context of how programs are making food and activity available. The assessment and planning process can help any program figure out what fits with what’s already in place and where to prioritize improvements.“
Because OST programs provide a host of support for young people, it may be challenging to find an effective, easy-to-implement healthy eating and physical activity strategy.
Tips to Improve Program Health and Wellness Opportunities
“As an organization committed to ensuring equitable health for all, the adoption of the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) Standards within our YMCA Association was a natural step in the right direction. The HEPA Standards provide a framework of best practices related to physical activity and healthy eating- at the Y. We’ve been able to take that framework and apply those best practices in a way that makes sense based on the diverse communities we serve,” said Jenny Cable, Senior Program Coordinator for YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities
“Since formally committing as an organization in 2012, the standards have allowed us to reframe our menus and food service to provide healthier choices. It has equipped team members with tools and resources to engage youth in intentional physical activity and play, and in turn, refocused our commitment to Healthy Living.”
Not all standards apply to all afterschool programs and some may hit implementation roadblocks. The standards are meant to be a guidepost toward which programs should work. Programs may not have the ability to implement all standards at once, but instead should develop a plan so one day their program will include aspects of all standards.
Creating healthy afterschool programs is an ongoing process. It isn’t anticipated that any program will have mastered all items included in the standards, but rather will use them to focus the program on striving toward excellence.
For more about the history of the NAA HEPA Standards and to access Version 2.0, click here. To learn about the refreshed standards and how to implement them in your program, join us on Thursday, Sept. 20 at 1 p.m. ET for "Latest Strategies for Bringing Health & Wellness to OST."
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