Over the past three years, park and recreation agencies have committed to implementing a set of Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards at their OST sites. By implementing the standards, park and recreation OST programs ensure the following:
- A fruit or vegetable is served at every meal.
- Kids are getting 60 minutes of physical activity in a summer camp program.
- Evidence-based nutrition education is provided.
- Kids and staff have access to drinking water at all times.
Through implementation of these standards, over 1,270 park and recreation sites have provided increased access to healthy foods and new opportunities for physical activity for over 228,000 youth. While the impact numbers alone are impressive, there are many reasons to celebrate this initiative—new partnerships have been created, new resources have been developed, and the vision of getting families across the country to eat healthy and move more is quickly becoming a reality.
Commit to Health has helped spark numerous partnerships and collaborations across the country. From local agencies working in collaboration with state health departments, school districts, volunteer groups, YMCA's and Boys and Girls Clubs, to national partnerships with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and Partnership for a Healthier America, new relationships have flourished. One of the most vital partnerships that NRPA has developed through Commit to Health is our relationship with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. For three years, the Alliance has worked to provide local agencies guidance, technical assistance and resources to ensure successful implementation of the standards.
In addition to forming great partnerships, NRPA has had the opportunity to create an abundance of new resources focused on healthy out-of-school time, including the Foods of the Month (FOM) nutrition education curriculum. FOM is an evidence-based curriculum specifically designed for park and recreation OST programs. Each month highlights two healthy food groups and contains a suite of materials, including lesson planning guides, newsletters, coloring and activity pages, USDA and MyPlate resources and physical activity lessons.
Evaluation of the FOM materials supports that the curriculum is fostering the development of healthy habits and inspiring behavior change in kids, parents and park and recreation staff. In addition, we know that children and families have experienced knowledge gain around healthy foods and families are increasingly preparing new foods and recipes at home, getting active in their local parks together and cutting back on time spent on digital devices. In an unexpected twist, we've also seen arts and crafts take on a whole new meaning in summer camps and afterschool programs!
While there are obvious successes that can be attributed to Commit to Health, we know that there is still a lot of room to grow. NRPA is committed to enhancing technical assistance offerings to assist agencies with implementation; we are committed to creating new resources that support the development of healthy eating and physical activity environments and the reinforcement of those behaviors in the home; and we are committed to bridging connections between the park and recreation field and other OST providers to ensure that every child is entitled to the best possible health and wellness outcomes.
It has been an exceptional three years for parks and recreation, and we look forward to continuing the movement!
For more information on Commit to Health, go to www.nrpa.org/our-work/partnerships/initiatives/commit-to-health/.
Written by Allison Colman, Program Manager, NRPA. She manages NRPA's Commit to Health and Fighting Hunger initiatives.