Professional Development

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Out of School Nutrition and Physical Activity: Promoting Children’s Health in Afterschool Programs

As programs are planning and beginning to reopen, it’s important to think of ways to help young people stay healthy through social distancing and other best practices related to prevention of the spread of coronavirus.

Now, more than ever, it’s critical to encourage youth to get outdoors to be active and creative in ways to help them continue to include physical activity and other practices supporting good health.

How recently have you taken time to observe and assess the ways in which your afterschool program supports the health of children in the communities you serve? What are some of the biggest challenges you face in engaging children in physical activity and making healthy eating choices?

The Out of School Nutrition and Physical Activity (OSNAP) initiative, developed by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is an evidence-based program to support after school and other out-of-school time (OST) programs to offer healthy foods and beverages and provide more opportunities for children to be active. OSNAP recommends ten specific goal areas to focus practice and policy improvements:

1. Provide all children with at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day.

2. Offer 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity three times per week.

3. Do not serve sugary drinks.

4. Do not allow sugary drinks to be brought in during program time.

5. Offer water as a drink at snack every day.

6. Offer a fruit or vegetable option every day at snack.

7. When serving grains (like bread, crackers, and cereals), serve whole grains.

8. Do not serve foods with trans-fat.

9. Limit computer and digital device time to homework or instructional only.

10. Eliminate use of commercial broadcast and cable TV and movies.

The OSNAP initiative begins with an assessment of current practices and policies related to physical activity, nutrition, and screen time within your OST program. Using either an online assessment tool or a paper version, you are able to identify goals to make improvements and to set action plans for how to achieve those goals. Multiple strategies and resources are provided with practical, cost-effective ways to create an action plan.

Once the assessment is completed and action plans set, the next step is to begin the process of implementing the action plans. The Food and Fun curriculum provides creative ideas for lessons and activities to engage youth in the process. Tip sheets and Fast Maps are additional resources to support action planning.

Communication with staff and families is critical as action plans are implemented. It is important to get everyone on board to understand the rationale and importance of changes that are being made. For example, if you establish a new policy of banning sugar-sweetened beverages from your program, it is important to get buy-in from program staff so they can be strong role models for youth. Likewise, the importance of support from families will avoid confusion and discourage them from packing sugary drinks in snacks.

As changes are implemented, periodically tracking progress enables you to determine successes in the achievement of goals. Celebrate when changes have been made, even if there is just a small improvement. Change takes time and it is important to be patient and realistic in the process. With each success, re-evaluate and set new goals so that you can continue to improve program practices and policies to support the health and well-being of the children in your program.

Please make sure to follow all CDC guidance related to camps, youth programs, schools and childcare programs as well as youth sports. This information can be found on the CDC website.

Note: A complete 7-hour online training for OSNAP is available through Penn State Better Kid Care. All content including videos and handouts is available free of charge. If a certificate of completion is needed, there is a $15 fee.

Written by Jill Nicholson Cox, MS, RD, Program Development Specialist, Penn State Better Kid Care.

Courtesy of Penn State Better Kid Care.

REFERENCES

Cradock Angie L., Jessica L. Barrett, Catherine M. Giles, Rebekka M. Lee, Erica L. Kenney, Madeleine E. deBlois, Julie C. Thayer, and Steven L. Gortmaker. 2015. "Promoting Physical Activity With the Out of School Nutrition and Physical Activity (OSNAP) Initiative: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial." JAMA Pediatrics 170(2): 155-162.

Kenney, Erica L., Catherine M. Giles, Madeleine E. deBlois, Steven L. Gortmaker, Sherene Chinfatt, and Angie L. Cradock. 2014. "Improving nutrition and physical activity policies in afterschool programs: results from a group-randomized controlled trial." Preventive Medicine 66: 159-166.

Lee, Rebekka M., Catherine M. Giles, Angie L. Cradock, Karen M. Emmons, Cassandra Okechukwu, Erica L. Kenney, J. Thayer, and Steven L. Gortmaker. 2018. "Impact of the Out-of-School Nutrition and Physical Activity (OSNAP) group randomized controlled trial on children's food, beverage, and calorie consumption among snacks served." Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 118(8): 1425-1437.

Lee, Rebekka M., Karen M. Emmons, Cassandra A. Okechukwu, Jessica L. Barrett, Erica L. Kenney, Angie L. Cradock, Catherine M. Giles, Madeleine E. deBlois, and Steven L. Gortmaker. 2014. "Validity of a practitioner-administered observational tool to measure physical activity, nutrition, and screen time in school-age programs." International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 11(1): 145.

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