I got a chance to interview Rob Bisceglie, the CEO of Action for Healthy Kids. Enjoy!
1. What is AFHK? How long has the organization existed and what are its main goals?
Action for Healthy Kids fights childhood obesity, undernourishment and physical inactivity by helping schools become healthier places so kids can live healthier lives. We were formed in 2002 in response to the special report The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, issued by then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. That very sobering report examined the serious obesity problem impacting all segments of our communities and identified schools as a key setting for addressing childhood obesity.
Since our founding, AFHK and our 70+ partner organizations have worked to turn the spotlight on the childhood obesity crisis, which is now widely acknowledged as a top priority by public health professionals, government leaders, school systems and the media. Today, AFHK is a leader in the national movement to improve child health, working at the federal and state levels and in school districts and school buildings nationwide.
Our work is made possible by our legion of dedicated volunteers – teachers, students, moms, dads, school wellness experts and more – from within the ranks of more than 50,000 supporters. Through their efforts, we’re on track to achieve our goal of working with 25,000 schools to help them adopt strong wellness policies and programs that teach 10 million kids about eating healthy and being active every day.
2. Why should we worry about childhood obesity?
One in three kids in this country is now overweight or obese, and many parents are aware of the health implications: obese kids are at a higher risk for a variety of health complications and chronic diseases, including heart disease, gallbladder disease, asthma, Type 2 diabetes and cancer. In fact, research now tells us that one-fifth of all cancer deaths in the U.S. are now related to overweight and obesity. And if obesity rates continue to rise on their current trajectory, this generation could be the first in our history to live shorter lives than their parents.
But what parents may not know is that poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity also affect kids’ ability to learn. This issue is at the heart of AFHK’s new report, The Learning Connection: What You Need to Know to Ensure Your Kids Are Healthy and Ready to Learn. It demonstrates that physical activity supports academic achievement, well-nourished kids learn better, and healthier practices in schools can increase school revenue. It also shows that schools that offer students healthier food and more time to be active are seeing increasing fitness levels, better student behavior and even higher test scores. Clearly, then, kids who don’t eat nutritiously and enjoy regular physical activity are at an academic disadvantage.
For these reasons and more, obesity is one of our nation’s most pressing public health crises, and although there are tens of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of fantastic nonprofit and government organizations working every day to put our kids on a healthier path, the most recent projections around the epidemic state that by 2030, 50% of Americans may be overweight or obese, unless we reverse the trend. So, there is still considerable work to be done.
3. What are some of AFHK’s initiatives and how are they impacting kids’ health?
We support 25,000 schools nationwide with the following free programs and resources to help make every kid healthy:
- Game On! The Ultimate Wellness Challenge: A free online guide that provides all the information and resources necessary for elementary schools to host successful school wellness programs.
- Fuel Up to Play 60: A partnership program that enables teachers and students to take action to improve nutrition and physical activity in their middle schools.
- Students Taking Charge: Our high school program that combines positive youth development concepts, like leadership and skill building, with school health projects and fosters student action. We’ve seen time and again that when informed teenagers come together, they can be a positive force for change in their schools.
- Parents for Healthy Kids: School wellness resources to help parents push for changes that make school environments healthier. AFHK has worked with parents across the country since 2007 to improve the nutrition and physical activity levels of kids at home and in school, and learned the most effective ways to engage parents in school wellness along the way.
In addition, through our work to expand school breakfast programming this school year, we are supporting schools as they serve an additional 1 million breakfasts to hungry kids. I’m proud of that program given the importance of school breakfast on student health and academic achievement. We note in The Learning Connection, for example, that on average students who eat school breakfast have been shown to attend 1.5 more days of school per year and score 17.5 percent higher on standardized math tests.
4. What kind of successes are you seeing?
We’re seeing positive changes happening across the country – at all different levels and using all of our various programs and resources. One of the things I’m proudest of is how truly committed our volunteers are to fighting childhood obesity and ensuring that kids and their families understand the importance of physical activity and good nutrition. Here are just a few success stories that illustrate what our volunteers can accomplish, and you’ll find plenty more on our website:
5. What is the Every Kid Healthy Pledge? How can parents help?
We believe it’s going to take a nation of moms, dads and other caring individuals to raise their hands and lend their voices to the fight against childhood obesity, undernourishment and physical inactivity. By taking the Every Kid Healthy™ Pledge, you’re joining our movement to help make every kid healthy and ready to learn. Our goal is to mobilize 100,000 caring volunteers. When you take the pledge, AFHK will connect you to our numerous free programs and resources, a variety of volunteer opportunities to help you create healthier environments so kids can thrive, and access to our School Grants for Healthy Kids, which provide funding to make changes happen in your school.
There are so many things, big and small, that parents can do to help – whether it’s introducing “brain breaks” of physical activity in the classroom or working with school administrators to create a universal breakfast program. First, I recommend that parents educate themselves on the issues of school wellness and learn about some of the hurdles schools might face in getting healthy programs going. Then, they can work collaboratively with administrators to put impactful programs in place. Our Parents for Healthy Kids program, which I mentioned earlier, is a great place to start. It includes a nine-part Parent Leadership Series of webinars and print materials that teach parents how to work collaboratively within their school communities to improve policies and practices related to school nutrition and physical activity. It covers the basics of how school systems work, project planning, wellness policies and the
most effective ways to advocate for change, as well as project areas related to the school food culture, school meals and physical activity.
I know from experience that parents really can make a difference. I’m on the school wellness committee at my kids’ elementary school, and while just a handful of us are involved this first year, we can already see the benefit to our kids. As a dad, it’s gratifying to see my kids and their friends thriving as a result of our work – and an awesome feeling to be part of the solution.