Action for Healthy Kids Embraces Bold, Strategic Change as New Decade Begins - Action for Healthy Kids
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Action for Healthy Kids Embraces Bold, Strategic Change as New Decade Begins

by Rob Bisceglie, CEO

The start of a new year and new decade warrants bold resolutions. For nonprofits, socially conscious corporations and changemakers everywhere, now is the time to employ disruption to foster the change they wish to see in the world. 

Since our founding in 2002, Action for Healthy Kids has pursued its longstanding vision of ensuring that every kid is healthy, active and ready to learn. We’ve supported more than 50,000 schools and built a network of more than 140,000 volunteers and champions to promote healthy eating and physical activity for children. While our organization takes immense pride in the results we’ve produced throughout the last 18 years, we recognize that children now are facing an ever-expanding, unprecedented array of health threats. With this childhood health crisis in mind, it’s clear that we must do more.

As AFHK looks to focus its attention on the coming decade, we’ve revised our definition of health for a child, thanks to the World Health Organization’s Constitution, which states that health is, “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This definition affirms our belief in whole child health and the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Model, which serves as Action for Healthy Kid’s underlying framework.

The crisis we face is complex, multilayered and can only be solved by addressing the root causes of poor health among children. The child development research and science around these root causes and related protective factors could not be clearer. If we hope to truly change the course of child health, parents, families, school staff and caring people throughout our communities must come together to reinforce the following three foundations to lifelong health:

Safe, supportive environments where kids can play and grow

Many of us still remember being kids and the profound feeling associated with having time to play at recess, after school, or on the weekend. Who would we play with? How would we treat others? Would we follow the rules set for us? These were some of the true first tests of character we all faced, and they would not have been possible without safe and supportive environments.

Establishing and preserving environments where children can thrive is our first foundation for lifelong health and an area that Action for Healthy Kids is excited to grow. The WSCC model shaped our vision for accomplishing this goal.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development website states that, “The focus of the WSCC model is an ecological approach that is directed at the whole school, with the school in turn drawing its resources and influences from the whole community and serving to address the needs of the whole child.”

The emphasis here is on the whole community doing their part to assist in helping children that thrive in their environments. Action for Healthy Kids recognizes there are many towns, cities and districts that still haven’t received the resources and support they need to offer safe and supportive environments to their kids. That’s why we’ll be strategically focusing our resources to assist underserved communities, including going beyond urban communities to rural and other non-urban areas where we can make a difference.

No matter where a child lives, they deserve an equal opportunity to feel safe, stimulated and comfortable in their environment. We aim to build and protect sanctuaries for kids to play, learn, and achieve their full potential. 

Stable and nurturing relationships with adults

Children are like sponges. They absorb the language, mannerisms, ideas and habits of those around them, especially caregivers and parents. However, adults are often the reason children encounter adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

ACEs are “potentially traumatic experiences and events, ranging from abuse and neglect to living with an adult with a mental illness.” They can lead to severe health consequences for children throughout their lives and can hamper development. Sadly, just under half of children in the U.S. have dealt with at least one adverse childhood experience.

One way to support kids impacted by the severe effects of ACEs is to help establish more stable and nurturing relationships between adults and kids. In an ideal world, all kids would establish these kinds of relationships with their parents or caregivers. Not all children live in the ideal world, of course. Fortunately, there are new strategies and programs being rolled out to strengthen the social and emotional health of all students by connecting them with school staff and other caring, nurturing adults. The coming decade will see AFHK incorporate some of these new strategies into its work as well.

Sound and appropriate nutrition paired with physical education and activity for kids

Healthy eating, physical education and physical activity have always been at the epicenter of how Action for Healthy Kids actively fights the childhood health crisis. This remains a high priority, but we know we can do more to grow our services and expand our impact. We’ll do this through:

  • Fostering increased demand for healthy food among families, students and schools, through student engagement, nutrition education and promotion. 
  • Improving the supply of healthy food for kids in schools by increasing the capacity of schools to serve as nutrition hubs.
  • Bolstering our family engagement by expanding our parent and family engagement program. 
  • Transitioning from our current K-12 model to a new focus impacting younger children from pre-K-8th grade.

To 2020 and beyond

What I’ve shared today offers merely a glimpse into the opportunities that Action for Healthy Kids sees ahead of us. Throughout 2020, we’ll share much more about each of these initiatives and foundational goals.

This will be a defining decade for the next generation of kids. Join us in this critical period and sign up for news and updates on how AFHK is pursuing lifelong health for children and on how you can get involved to support this critical cause.