Posts Tagged ‘children’s health’

What the 2016 Shape of the Nation Report Says About Recess

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

four kids playing on recess equipment

The latest Shape of the Nation report included a combination of recess and research. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and SHAPE America have poured vast amounts of time and energy into figuring out how our children can get the most out of recess.

In the U.S., two recesses rarely look the same. Only eight states have policies that require schools to offer recess, and researchers found there were no real guidelines in any part of the country. This despite the recommendations that children engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

With that in mind, there’s no time like the present to reexamine the way your school looks at recess. This summary of the report’s 19 strategies should serve as a good start.

Formalize the Fun

Ever heard of a recess curriculum? One of the broad strategy recommendations of the Shape of the Nation report is to make significant leadership decisions so recess becomes a priority. This doesn’t mean recess should be rigid and regimented, but it does mean your school should have a written physical education plan so all school staff and supervisors understand why daily physical activity benefits their students’ health and focus.

Sit down with teachers, parents, and students and create a set of policies to guide recess. This can involve everything from designating indoor and outdoor play spaces to figuring out how to keep students safe if a freak snowstorm hits during recess. Your strategy should include your school’s philosophy about recess, the goals it will take to get there, and who is responsible for taking on each step.

If you’re not sure where to start, the CDC has a self-assessment tool schools can use to see where they’re doing well and the areas in which they still need improvement.

From Planning to Playground

It’s time to adapt your schoolyard or indoor recess space so students benefit from your planning.

When possible, schools should provide ample play equipment. The types of equipment will vary, based on the age categories of your school. Educators should look beyond soccer balls and jump ropes and ensure their bounty of recess gear includes equipment that is inclusive for children of all ages and abilities. Consider balls of different size, textures, and color, as well as manipulative equipment that can be used by children with gross motor delays.

In addition to equipment, the report recommends creating designated physical activity zones. For example, your schoolyard could be split into three areas: one each for sports, fitness skills, and relaxation. This schoolyard division will make recess more satisfying for students and avoid the accidents that inevitably happen when two sports collide. One of your physical activity zones should also acknowledge that exercise doesn’t just come in the form of traditional sports. Drama productions, mazes, and obstacle courses can be created by more creative staff members and will serve the same positive purpose: getting children on their feet and having fun.

Finally: safety first. The Shape of the Nation report found that just under half of American schools post safety rules and guidelines for equipment, despite almost all schools having this equipment available to students. Creating an accessible list of rules and ensuring play equipment meets safety standards is an excellent preventative measure your school should take.

Activate Your Community

Everyone should be invested and engaged in making recess a success. If you laid out supervisory roles in your written recess plan, now is the time to implement them. While most schools require teachers and parents to be supervisors, less encourage them to be physical activity facilitators. Facilitators guide students through different activities, which helps reduce injury, bullying, and exclusionary behavior. While safety supervisors should be adults, physical activity facilitators can be found within your student body. Allowing older students to organize and facilitate an activity of their choice is essential in positive youth development and can create valuable peer leadership opportunities.

Tweak for Next Year

No strategy is complete without a means to assess it. The report recommends schools gather information about recess: how much intense physical activity is the average child getting, how is this affecting classroom outcomes, discipline rates, etc. Gathering this information will help you constantly refine your recess plan and provide a source of evidence if anyone ever challenges your school’s recess values.

Physical activity time is an essential part of a child’s school day. By incorporating all or some of the Shape of the Nation’s strategies, you can be sure you’re making recess the best it can be.

Protecting Children’s Cardiovascular Health

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

children's cardiovascular health

We’re born with reasonably good levels of heart health, and as we grow, our lifestyle choices, dietary decisions and other habits affect our hearts increasingly over time. Although many people associate heart concerns with the elderly population, research shows that the slippery slope into chronic cardio issues can actually start at a very young age.

Studies show that children throughout the world are approximately 15% less fit than their parents were at the same age, with cardiovascular endurance declining by around 6% per decade. Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine conducted a study that examined four indications of heart health in children: BMI, diet, blood pressure, and total cholesterol. The study found that out of the sample of 8,961 children between the ages of 2 and 11, not a single child had ideal levels for all aspects of heart health.

If children are unfit in their youth, they’re likely to develop worsening conditions later in life. Since heart disease remains to be the number one killer of Americans today, it’s important to examine the reasons behind children’s declining cardiovascular health and combat this trend by teaching healthy habits.

Lack of Physical Education

In the recent years, schools have been cutting down on physical education classes and recess in an attempt to open up extra time for academic study. This approach could be detrimental not only to the physical, mental, and cognitive development of children; it could be actively putting them at a higher risk for blood pressure problems, high cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease.

Reduced physical activity in school is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease and chronic diseases like diabetes. Just like for adults, increased levels of physical activity are often associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and increased life expectancy — meaning that the more we cut down on physical education and recess, the more damage we could be doing to our children.

Lack of access to recess and physical education could also correlate with fewer chances to develop crucial social skills at a young age, which may lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety in students.

Poor Dietary Habits

Giving children unlimited access to consumption of sweets and unhealthy foods could lead to literal heartache later in life. In a study regarding sugar consumption, the CDC found that the average teenager consumed around 500 calories worth of processed sugar every day. Teenagers whose calorie intake was made up of more than 30% sugar had higher levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in their system.

In the past thirty years, childhood obesity levels have doubled, leading to increases in instances of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Although it might not be possible to constantly watch over what children are eating, parents and schools can offer more nutritious choices and keep junk food out of easy reach.

Sitting Still for Too Long

Research suggests that too much “static sitting” could be bad for your health, regardless of the amount of exercise you might get at other times. Studies have linked excessive sitting — such as the time students spend sitting still in class — to issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and more.

One of the largest studies conducted to date involved a sample group of almost 800,000 people, and found that when compared to people who sat less often, people who stayed seated for most of the day had a 147% increase in cardiovascular events and a 90% increase of death caused by heart problems. Promoting positive behaviors at school, like encouraging students to get up and move around every hour, can help keep their hearts healthy and instill long-lasting good habits.

Promoting Good Heart Health

While a lot of articles give advice for adults to improve heart health and lower their cholesterol, many ignore the fact that bad habits often start in childhood, creating ill effects that persist throughout the remainder of a person’s life. The American Heart Association encourages adults  to model healthy behaviors for children as early as possible. The recent data revealed about child heart health is a worrying concept, but acts as a reminder that cardiovascular fitness is a lifelong process, not something that should only be considered in adulthood.

Encourage kids to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day — using as many muscle groups as possible — through activities like swimming, running, or cycling. If we fail to inspire children to develop fitness habits through dietary awareness and physical education, we may be robbing them of the resources they need for long-term cardiovascular health.

4 Tips to Improve Your Child’s Sleep

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

child's sleep

Sleep isn’t just a luxury of life – it’s a health requirement for adults and kids alike. When people don’t get enough sleep, it really shows. Lack of sleep has been linked to depression, lost productivity and even obesity.

So how much sleep do kids really need? It all depends on their age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends:

  • 14 to 17 hours of sleep per day for newborns, up to 3 months of age
  • 12 to 15 hours of sleep per day for infants, age 4 to 11 months of age
  • 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day for toddlers, age 1 to 2 years old
  • 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day for preschoolers, age 3 to 5 years old
  • 9 to 11 hours of sleep per day for school age kids, age 6 to 13 years old
  • 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day for teens, age 14 to 17 years old
  • 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day for adults, age 18 and up

So what can parents do to keep their kids in line with the recommendations – particularly if bedtime is usually met with difficulty? Here are a few ways families can make sleep a household priority, with less fuss and fighting.

Stick With Routine

Our bodies respond best to repeated patterns that don’t deviate much from one day to the next. From the time your child gets home from school or child care, have a general schedule for everything from dinner to homework to bath/shower to bedtime. It can be easy to let this routine go over vacations or on the weekends, but you should really try to stick with it. Sleep is just as important on non-school days and if children get too run-down on their days off, it will manifest in lethargy, disinterest and even bad behavior. Set and keep a bedtime – and have the actions that set it up for success.

Work Up to Bedtime

This references the first point, but is a little more specific. As an adult, would you expect to go to a high-energy workout class and then fall asleep five minutes later? The same is true for kids. If they are busy running around up until the clock strikes bedtime, it will take longer for them to fall asleep. Experts now advise parents to shut off all electronics, including TVs, an hour before bedtime. Have your kids play quietly with their non-electronic toys, or read them a book, in those 60 minutes leading up to lights out. Consider the time immediately before bedtime a “warm up” for the success of the rest of the night.

Prioritize Sleep

All parents say they want their kids to sleep well but do their actions add up to that end? It’s important to not overschedule your kids, particularly if those activities stretch into the evening hours. It’s also important to say “no” to events that will cut into the evening routine and to leave events early if there will be a conflict. It’s okay to make rare exceptions but as a whole, keep bedtime and the evening routine a priority on your family calendar.

Monitor Food/Drinks in the Evening
As a general rule of thumb, don’t allow your kids anything with processed sugar after dinner. Kids should never have caffeine, as the stimulant effects can last for hours after it has entered the body. Keep in mind that chocolate has caffeine though not the high amount found in soft drinks or coffee/tea. Make sure your kids, including your teens, know the food and drink rules in the evening and set a good example by following them yourself.

Good sleeping habits take some time to cultivate and there is no quick fix for parents or kids. Establishing consistency and routine – and then making sleep a family priority – will go a long way to better rest in your household, and all of the health benefits that accompany it.

An Unhealthy Irony

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

While the “Next Great Depression” has school physical education (PE) budgets down on the canvas listening to the eight count, USA Today (March 11, 2009) publishes an article titled, “21% of Americans Scramble to Cover Medical, Drug Bills”.

It continues on page 5 with a headline that reads, “The biggest problem the country has is the cost of health care.” Jim Clifton, Gallup’s CEO and chief scientist for well-being and workplace management says,

“It’s a lot bigger problem than war and a bigger problem than the current (economic) meltdown because there are no fixes to it on the horizon right now.”

Well, I have a suggestion: Support the concept of quality, daily PE for every child grades K-12 instructed by credentialed, well-trained specialists.

CDC summarized the research and strongly recommends PE as an effective way to promote children’s health. The data show that highly active PE classes (like SPARK) help children move more now and hopefully, that behavior continues into the future. Simply stated, physical education IS preventive medicine. Let’s contribute to reducing the cost of health care by ensuring the next generation of adults is ill less frequently than the current one.

How to do that? I believe our challenge has been in formulating a clear message around physical education’s preventative assets and building an effective marketing campaign (simple and clear) that can be sustained. Verb (funded by the CDC) began a media blitz years ago and data show they were making some progress — until their funding stream dried up. The PEP grants (Physical Education for Progress) are federal dollars that have been generously supporting PE and PA programs (but for only 50-75 winners nationally) for the past 6 years. These dollars remain precarious year to year.

Therefore, I call upon our national organizations and friends of SPARK, including AAHPERD and their state affiliates, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, American Heart and Cancer Associations, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and all others who have a stake in public health, to work together and formulate a compelling message that can be broadcast via various media (websites, podcasts, webinars, presentations, television, radio, more) and organize behind a common theme- physical education is prevention – and a proven solution to reducing health care costs.

Speaking for SPARK, we are willing to contribute time and staff to this cause. Who will join us? Share you thoughts online and lets start the movement (pun intended) here.

-Paul Rosengard