February marks the two year anniversary of NRPA’s Commit to Health campaign. From the exciting launch event in 2014 with First Lady Michelle Obama in Miami, to where we are today, let’s take a moment to look back and celebrate our successes over the past 2 years!
What is Commit to Health?
In February 2014, NRPA made a five-year commitment to the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to improve healthy eating and physical activity for youth in park and recreation sites across the country. Commit to Health is NRPA’s national campaign encouraging park and recreation sites to adopt the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards, improving access to nutritious foods and providing increased opportunities for physical activity.
The HEPA standards were created by a national coalition of out-of-school time leaders to create evidence-based, practical values that foster the best possible nutrition and physical activity outcomes for children in grades K-12. This commitment aligned NRPA with a network of national partners combating the childhood obesity epidemic and working to create a healthier generation.
In addition to working alongside PHA, NRPA launched an extremely valuable partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to support this five-year initiative through technical assistance, resource development, and direct support for park and recreation agencies.
What We Did in Year One
The first year of the Commit to Health campaign gave us reason to celebrate. By February of 2015, 486 park and recreation sites across the nation had pledged their commitment to improving the health of their communities. Many of those sites saw early successes by evaluating their programs and creating a baseline for healthy eating and physical activity, setting goals and creating action plans. With the support from parents, staff and community leaders, many sites achieved their goals and objectives the first year.
Within one year, more than 51,000 youth engaged in nutrition education, cooked healthy meals and enjoyed an environment filled with physical activity thanks to the adoption of the HEPA standards.
What We Did Year Two
Drawing on the success of the first year, NRPA leveraged the momentum of park and recreation professionals to dive deeper into the initiative. Working in collaboration with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, we created new tools and resources sites pledging to make a difference. This included an inspiring video showcasing the importance of healthy out-of-school time programs and how they are making a difference in communities across the country. Working with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, we provided additional technical assistance opportunities in the form of webinars, conference presentations, and tutorials.
We also learned that an important piece of the puzzle was missing — family engagement — leading us to create the Commit to Health Family Engagement Materials to help support healthy eating and physical activity in the home. Now we have 929 sites implementing the HEPA standards, making a positive difference in the lives of more than 108,000 children!
Where Are We Going?
This year promises to be exciting with new tools and resources and a goal to reach 1,500 sites this year!
To help reach our goal, we recently announced the availability of $1.9 million to help park and recreation agencies with their out-of-school time programs. The grants support park and recreation agencies in increasing the number of meals they provide, teaching nutrition literacy, implementing the HEPA standards and reducing food waste.
We know many of you have already done great work — the success stories keep rolling in! We see cross-collaboration with 4-H and state health departments in communities like Jackson, TN; agencies impacting more children by seeking partnerships with YMCA’s and BGCA’s like in Lawrence, KS; holding focus groups and taste testing in Chicago to work with meal sponsors and create healthier menus; and creating physical activity challenges and initiatives like the Dallas MyFi program. We want to hear more this year!
As part of our commitment to PHA, 2016 is the year where a third party will verify a sample of park and recreation sites to ensure consistency among implementation of the HEPA standards. If your site is selected, don’t worry — help is on the way! We will provide step-by-step instructions and help you through the process!
Through the verification process, collective implementation rates for each HEPA standard will be published in the PHA Annual Report in 2017. This will be the first time these results will be shared publicly and we will be able to see how we are doing as a field!
Finally, as we enter our third year of the Commit to Health campaign, we are thrilled to see that park and recreation agencies are leading the charge in the fight for a healthier generation! Let’s keep the momentum going!
Kellie May is NRPA's Senior Program Manager