Studies affirm the positive impact of programs on health outcomes for children.
by Alexis Glick
Despite the very real progress that’s been made, over 33 percent of U.S. children are overweight or obese, and it is estimated that 80 percent of adolescents do not achieve the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
Because children spend 2,000 hours a year in school (just 80 hours shy of what we adults put in if we work a standard 40-hour week year-round), the school environment — and the creation of cultures of wellness in school buildings — is a big part of the solution to these challenges. But schools cannot, and should not be expected to, solve these problems on their own.
This week, some exciting news broke on how the NFL’s Play 60 programs — which incorporate GENYOUth’s nutrition and physical activity initiative, Fuel Up to Play 60 (developed by National Dairy Council and the NFL) as well as the American Heart Association’s Play 60 Challenge — are positively contributing to improved health outcomes in children.
The results are published in the March 2017 issue of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and available online here now.
In brief, the study - conducted across nearly 500 elementary, middle, and high schools - showed that NFL PLAY 60 programming was associated with significantly larger improvements in aerobic capacity, and notable improvements in Body Mass Index (BMI), when compared to students in schools that did not participate in these programs. Moreover, schools that implemented the programming for a full four years showed better improvements than schools that participated for only two to three years.
Fuel Up to Play 60, now in 73,000 U.S. schools, was designed to increase access to healthy foods (including fruits, vegetables, low-fat and non-fat dairy, and whole grains), and increase opportunities for students to be active in their school communities.
I’m grateful to our colleagues and partners at the Dallas-based Cooper Institute, whose NFL Play 60 FitnessGram® Project provided the metrics that revealed these improvements. FitnessGram® is an assessment program for youth, developed in response to the need for a comprehensive set of evaluation procedures in physical education programs. It includes a variety of health-related physical fitness tests that assess aerobic capacity; muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility; and body composition. Scores from these assessments are compared to Healthy Fitness Zone® standards to determine students’ overall physical fitness.
The recent study’s results really are cause for celebration among all the contributing partners to the Play 60 initiatives, for the simple reason that they demonstrate - measurably — that our programs are making a difference in kids’ lives.
Importantly, the study covered a full four years of data, from 2011 through 2015, and was rigorous — performed across 32 NFL franchise markets and a range of 50,000 to 100,000 students annually. Teachers were encouraged to implement NFL Play 60 programs to promote physical activity and to enhance their school wellness programs. They were then asked to assess their students’ fitness each year and to enter data through the web-based FitnessGram® software, as well as to complete baseline and annual surveys about their Physical Education programs, school health policies, fitness testing, and implementation of NFL Play 60 programming. Adoption of the programs was tracked through sequential annual surveys conducted at the end of each academic year.
I was particularly excited about two aspects of NFL Play 60 programming that the study singled out; (1) adaptability, and (2) superiority to individual interventions. As stated in the published findings, “The multicomponent and multilevel nature of the Fuel up to Play 60 and Play 60 Challenge programs was well suited . . . because it provided schools with the flexibility to choose programs that best fit their local school policies and interests. The findings support the utility of these less structured programs . . . . . The current study also confirms that multilevel, school-driven programs are more efficacious than individual or interpersonal physical activity interventions.”
Gratifying to us at GENYOUth is the fact that these results enhance other third-party research, which has repeatedly shown that Fuel Up to Play 60’s focus on improving school wellness environments - with youth playing a key role - is contributing to improved nutrition and increased physical activity of students.
Here’s the bottom line.
The study making news this week, along with other recent research, points to the very real potential we have to address this ongoing issue with tools that actually work. The collaboration and validation of partners such as the Cooper Institute are crucial to our work’s ability to make a lasting difference.
The results I’ve mentioned here demonstrate the importance of school-based nutrition and physical activity programs. I would encourage us, as a new administration takes office, (1) to advocate for public-private partnerships, since they can lead to successful outcomes; (2) recognize that the tools and resources that organizations like ours provide to schools are necessary for creating cultures of wellness - which have a direct impact on academic performance, behavior, and attendance; and (3) remember that consistent, objective measurement and evaluation techniques are required to prove the efficacy of programs designed to address the gaps in school health and wellness.
As the 45th U.S. President is sworn in and a new Congress convenes, I urge us all, in the spirit of common commitment to our most precious asset, our students, to make certain that we keep the importance of healthy, high-achieving futures for all American children — and the prosperous, stable economy that a healthy generation of young people helps to produce — top of mind.
I know you’ll agree with me that our children, and our nation, deserve nothing less.
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