In February 2014, NRPA launched Commit to Health, a campaign devoted to creating healthier out-of-school time (OST) programs in local parks and recreation. This month, we’re celebrating three years of successful implementation in communities across the country!
Over the last three years, park and recreation agencies that have joined Commit to Health have worked toward creating a healthier generation of youth through the implementation of the Healthy Eating Physical Activity (HEPA) standards at their OST sites. The HEPA standards are things like ensuring that a fruit or vegetable is served at every meal, making sure that kids in a summer camp program are getting 60 minutes of physical activity, and providing drinking water at all times to youth and staff. Through implementation of these standards, 1,250 park and recreation sites have provided increased access to healthy foods and new opportunities for physical activity for more than 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 program evaluation shows that knowledge is increasing and behavior change is taking place.
Percentage of Sites Fully Demonstrating Standards
Serve only foods with no artificial trans fats
|Serve a fruit or vegetable at every snack and meal||85%|
|Serve only whole grain-rich products||76%|
|Serve only non-fat or reduced fat dairy products||89%|
|Serve only lean protein, beans/legumes, eggs||74%|
|Serve only packaged snacks that meet USDA Smart Snacks standards||84%|
|Serve only frozen desserts that meet USDA Smart Snacks standards||60%|
|Provide drinking water at no cost to youth and staff||95%|
|Serve only low-fat plain, or plain or flavored non-fat milk||93%|
|Serve only 100% fruit or vegetable juice||86%|
|Prohibit full-calorie sodas, sports drinks or juice drinks||82%|
|Prohibit diet/low-calorie beverages elem. only, allow for high school||81%|
|Serve only non-caffeinated beverages||87%|
|Offer evidence-based nutrition education to youth||86%|
|Offer evidence-based education materials about nutrition to families||60%|
|Dedicate at least 20% of program time to physical activity
(30 mins for a half-day program, 60 mins for a full-day program)
|Provide activities in which youth are moderately to vigorously active
for 50% of physical activity time
|Ensure physical activity takes place outdoors whenever possible||97%|
|Do not permit access to television or movies||53%|
|Limit digital device time to less than one hour per day and activities
that engage youth in physical activity
|Share educational materials with families||68%|
New Partnerships: In parks and recreation, we know how important partnerships are to the success of a program, and Commit to Health has helped to spark numerous partnerships and collaborations across the country. From local agencies working with state health departments, school districts, volunteer groups, YMCAs 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. And, these relationships have resulted in increased capacity to create healthier menus, set goals and develop action plans, and implement nutrition education and physical activity programs.
New Resources: Through the Commit to Health initiative, NRPA has had the opportunity to create an abundance of new resources focused on healthy out-of-school time, including a set of family engagement materials and the Foods of the Month nutrition education curriculum. Foods of the Month 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. This year, NRPA will be expanding the FOM curriculum to include a set of Community and Home Gardening resources. These resources will provide guidance on projects to help park and recreation agencies and families continue to make healthy living changes.
Evaluation Results: Since the inception of Commit to Health, NRPA has been committed to conducting a thorough evaluation of the initiative to determine knowledge gains, behavior change and verification of the standards being met. Our evaluation data shows that children, staff and parents have experienced increases in knowledge of healthy eating and physical activity, resulting in positive behavior changes. We know that children involved in park and recreation programs that have implemented the HEPA standards are eating better and moving more. In addition to the data collected from participants in the initiative, NRPA has also collected data on the actual standards being implemented in park and recreation sites. This past year, we completed our first round of third-party verification through documentation to evaluate the progress and implementation rates of the HEPA standards. Overall, the results from the verification (in the preceding chart) show that incredible progress is being made across the field.
While the implementation rates of many of the standards are quite high, the results also illustrated that there is significant room for improvement. There is still the need for continued technical assistance and resources around engaging parents and caregivers in nutrition education, prohibiting access to television and movies, not serving foods with trans fats and ensuring that items being served are whole grain-rich.
Parks and recreation is creating healthier communities each day and impacting thousands of individuals along the way. It’s not too late to register your site for Commit to Health, and join the national movement for healthy out-of-school time.
Allison Colman is an NRPA Health & Wellness Program Manager.