A downtown Anchorage church is converting its front lawn into a huge vegetable and herb garden.
A few blocks away at a municipal park, residents and city employees have planted clusters of fruit trees and berry bushes.
These are just two examples of a new trend in urban gardens: edible landscaping. The idea is to create an attractive public space that also provides free food to the community.
“We have planted apple trees, raspberry and currant bushes, blueberries, strawberries, and rhubarb,” said Catherine Kemp, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the Municipality of Anchorage.
The Fairview Community Council and the Anchorage Community Land Trust received a grant from the Anchorage Park Foundation, as well as donated fruit trees from the State of Alaska Division of Forestry, to create this edible landscaping at Fairview Park.
“We will have signs identifying the plants, explaining how they are traditionally used, and encouraging people to pick them,” said Kemp.
Kemp said food security is a priority for Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, and he hopes many in the area will benefit from the edible additions.
“Both local residents and any homeless people in the area will be encouraged to pick and eat the fruit growing here,” said Kemp.
Kemp also has plans to use the garden to teach the children at Fairview Elementary School about food issues.
“I am going to do some education sessions about the importance of growing our own food and how the food system works,” she said.
Just a few blocks away, volunteers from Central Lutheran Church are planting a large vegetable and herb garden in front of their building.
“We hope to have raised vegetable garden beds built this summer,” said Barbara Baker, a church member who is working on the garden project.
When the garden is ready for harvest, Baker said its bounty will be open to church members, residents of a nearby transitional housing shelter, and children attending the closest Camp Fire Alaska Before and After School Program.
Photograph courtesy of Laura Vachula with the Anchorage Park Foundation
For the second year in a row, the Healthy Futures Challenge will continue in the summer.
Many parents across Alaska know about the free physical activity challenge that is offered twice during each school year — once in the fall and again in the spring. The spring challenge ended in more than 160 elementary schools in April, but the Summer Healthy Futures Challenge will kick off again in June to help Alaska kids get closer to 60 minutes of daily physical activity during the summer.
“The Summer Challenge encourages kids to continue building the habit of daily physical activity through the summer months, keeping them engaged in healthy activities,” said Alyse Loran, Healthy Futures coordinator.
Healthy Futures is partnering with Camp Fire Alaska
and Denali Family Services
to run the summer physical activity challenge in several Anchorage locations and almost 30 rural communities that participate in Denali Family Services camps, Camp Fire’s Rural Camp program, and Camp Fire’s school-age program in Anchorage.
The school-year Healthy Futures Challenge and the Summer Challenge run in slightly different ways. To successfully complete the school-year challenge, children in grades K-6 fill out a physical activity log for an entire month. To complete the Summer Challenge, children need to fill out an activity log for a two-week period of time. During those two weeks, participating children need to be active for 60 minutes a day for at least 10 days, Loran said.
There will be four, two-week Summer Challenge periods in June and July, Loran said. Children who complete the Summer Challenge will receive a prize. The prize for a first completed log is a Healthy Futures yo-yo that lights up when it’s used.
Play Every Day has been broadcasting a short TV message about Carolyn and Shane Iverson’s family in Bethel, and how they have fun making physical activity a part of their daily life.
Carolyn Iverson says the local children were excited to see the message about their community along the Kuskokwim River, and the importance of being active every day.
“I always ask them: Did it make you want to play?” she says. “And they all say, ‘Yes!’”
Last year, Play Every Day filmed this public service announcement (PSA) with the Iverson family. This year, the campaign is broadcasting the PSA again, but the Iverson family has some big news. The family of five is now a family of six. Their little boy named Tyson was born on Feb. 11.
The PSA about the Iversons was created in partnership between the Department of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Both organizations are working together again this spring and summer to share the physical activity message with Alaska families throughout the state.
The PSA can only share 30 seconds of the Iverson family’s story. Here are a few more details to see how Carolyn and Shane — and many other adults in Bethel — are helping children get out and play every day.
Carolyn is Yup’ik, grew up in Akiak until age 5, and has lived in Bethel for years. That’s where she met her husband, Shane. They have three boys and a girl — all under the age of 8. Carolyn is a social worker with the Lower Kuskokwim School District and Shane is the general manager for KYUK.
The Iversons are busy, but they work hard to make sure their whole family is active every day. They limit TV time and don’t have video games. They make physical activity a daily priority by finding ways to weave activity into their family’s day.
“Sometimes people think physical activity needs to be separate from their daily lives,” Carolyn says. “When you can incorporate it into your daily lifestyle, that’s when it will be easiest to maintain.”
Activity is a part of the kids’ school day. The older boys do Native dance at the Yup’ik Immersion School. After school, the Iverson children play basketball, wrestle, do judo, or dance. When school’s out for the summer, they play soccer, pick berries or take trips to the sand pits to run around and play. They often take a boat to their fish camp so they can fish together on the river.
The Iverson family has found a way to be active and help the community be active at the same time. In the summer, Shane coaches soccer while his children play the game. During the school year, Carolyn coaches girls basketball and Shane assists. Carolyn says one of Bethel’s strengths is its sense of community.
“There a lot of people — adults — who put time and energy into giving kids multiple different kinds of opportunities throughout the year,” she says.
Carolyn says she gives her time to help young kids because she wants them to think about the importance of being physically active. She wants to inspire them to maintain that level of activity throughout adulthood. She also wants to help them feel better about who they are, and start thinking about their goals for the future.
“We are trying to raise our kids to choose to be active and engage in things that make them feel good,” Carolyn says.
Carolyn says she maintained her own active lifestyle while pregnant with Tyson. She helped her sister coach cross country running during the early part of her pregnancy and coached the young girls basketball team until she had her baby.
This is how the Iversons are helping children in their community be physically active. What can you do in yours?
Do you know how children get most of their added sugar each day?
They drink it.
Sugary drinks are the No.1 source of added sugar in our daily diets. And most of these drinks come loaded with calories with little — if any — nutritional value.
These sugary drinks are more than just soda. Some of the more popular sweetened drinks in Alaska cupboards include the powdered mixes and fruit-flavored beverages. Alaska parents are often surprised to hear that sports drinks and vitamin drinks — drinks marketed to appear like they are healthier options — are really just loaded with sugar. There can be eight teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce vitamin drink, and nine teaspoons of sugar in a similar-sized sports drink.
Play Every Day is taking its message to television, websites, and the walls of schools and health clinics across Alaska to show how these sugary drinks add up to serious health problems for children and adults. Its public service announcement opens with this line: “It’s just one soda with dinner. What’s the harm?”
Sugary drinks are linked with many harms that can start in childhood and lead to a lifetime of serious health risks. Sugary drinks can lead to unhealthy weight gain. One out of three Alaska children is overweight or obese. They can lead to type 2 diabetes — a serious health condition that is being increasingly diagnosed among children even though it used to be considered a disease of adults only. Sugary drinks can lead to cavities, and can increase the risk of heart disease.
Play Every Day’s 30-second video message flashes back to the sugary drinks a child consumes at breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. At the same time, a split screen shows the sugar adding up in a glass. By the end, the child consumes 38 teaspoons of sugar — almost a cup — just from sugary drinks that day. The take-home message is to skip all those sugary drinks and choose water or low-fat milk for the best health.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans has set limits on the amount of added sugar to consume each day for the best health. The guidelines recommend limiting our added sugars to less than 10 percent of the calories we eat and drink each day. Added sugars are sugars, syrups and other sweeteners that are added to foods or drinks when they are processed or prepared. Sugary drinks — like sodas and sports drinks — are loaded with added sugars. You can read more to learn how you can help your family meet these recommended limits for daily added sugar.
Nick Hanson, the American Ninja Warrior from Unalakleet, has designed an obstacle course and will be challenging students to try it at eight Mat-Su Borough schools on May 2- 4, 2017. One obstacle he will be demonstrating is a 14 1/2-foot curved wall — the same height wall that he climbs during the national TV American Ninja Warrior competition that features creative obstacles.
Hanson is visiting local schools to show young children that daily physical activity is healthy and fun. Hanson also will focus on other choices he makes to stay healthy, including not drinking soda, smoking tobacco or abusing drugs.
The last soda Hanson drank was in 2003, when he was a high school athlete. He used to drink multiple cans of soda a day, but when he gave it up, he started to feel better.
“I actually started running faster,” he said. “I started performing better.”
For the past two years, Hanson has been a contestant on American Ninja Warrior and competes as the “Eskimo Ninja.” Hanson, a world record holder in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics
, has been invited back to compete and will be on the show airing June 12, 2017. When he’s home, Hanson practices every day on the Ninja course he built using driftwood on the beach of Unalakleet.
At his first Mat-Su school visit May 2, Hanson will be joined by the Play Every Day campaign. Last year, Play Every Day partnered with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium
to film a 30-second public service announcement
that shows Hanson helping Unalakleet children and families get physically active in many different ways. He has coached children in several sports, including volleyball and Native Youth Olympics. He organizes a free running club for people of all ages in the summer. And when the kids play hide-and-go-seek and other games, Hanson joins in the fun. Play Every Day and ANTHC are broadcasting Hanson’s physical activity message to Alaska families on TV and online this spring and summer.
Looking to pick up a skinny caramel latte at the Upbeat Cafe at Colony High School? It’s going to come with calorie-free flavoring.
Want to grab a quick slice of pizza from the Snack Shack run by the high school’s activities program? Now it’s got a tasty whole wheat crust. You might also notice that the portion size is a bit smaller — 10 slices per pie this year compared to the 8 slices they sold before.
These menu changes are a part of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District implementation of the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards. These national standards are issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Starting in the 2014-15 school year, the Smart Snacks nutrition standards require that “competitive foods” — snacks and beverages sold in vending machines, school stores, snack carts, á la carte lines and fundraising efforts during the school day — are nutritious and promote health.
While serving healthy foods to students during the school day makes sense, it can be challenging to put these standards into action. Many of these stores are run by volunteer clubs and organizations, rather than a school nutrition specialist. Detailed nutrition standards can look overwhelming to volunteers if they don’t get the necessary support.
Rather than trying to navigate the new standards, some districts chose to unplug vending machines and shutter school stores during the school day, only opening for evening sporting events (foods sold more than a half an hour after the school day ends are not required to meet the Smart Snacks nutrition standards). Unfortunately, the clubs and groups running the stores lose that source of revenue when there are many healthy choices they could be selling.
The Mat-Su Borough School District has found a way to meet those standards, continue offering foods and drinks during the school day, and bring in revenue. Rachel Kroon, member of the district’s wellness team, worked with school stores, cafés and coffee shops throughout the district to meet nutrition standards.
“We made individual school site visits to check their current menus and let them sample some Smart Snack-compliant items,” she said. "We delivered a folder with all the Smart Snack Guidelines and gave them a list of snack items they could buy from local stores and Amazon. Then we followed up with site-specific recommendations to the clubs and groups running the stores.”
Thinking about making a change at your school? Here are some tips for a Smart Snacks makeover:
• Share the Guide to Smart Snacks in Schools with anyone who manages a school store or snack bar, coordinates food-based fundraisers during the school day, or sells food on campus outside of the School Breakfast and Lunch Program.
• Check current snacks and beverage inventories using the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Product Calculator. Use the Beverage Inventory and Food Inventory worksheets to help you document and stay organized.
• Browse for compliant products using the Smart Food Planner or work with your school food service to order Smart Snacks-compliant foods through their vendors.
• Consider working with your school food service program to prepare Smart Snacks-compliant foods like muffins, pizzas, sandwiches, or salads for sale in a school store.
• Involve students in taste-testing new options.
• Use Smarter Lunchroom strategies, such as placing healthier items at the front of the counter; using signs withfun, descriptive names to make them visible and attractive; and pricing healthier items at a lower cost than less healthy items.
• Make sure the Smart Snacks standards are included in your district’s required school wellness policy.
One of the best ways to help young Alaskans grow up at a healthy weight is to pass and implement a strong school wellness policy. Evidence of the importance of a strong school wellness policy
(also known as a student nutrition and physical activity policy) is so clear that the federal government requires that every school district receiving funds for school breakfast or lunch have a policy. Alaska school surveys indicate a clear relationship between implementing Smart Snacks nutrition standards and the declining availability of candy and salty snacks in Alaska schools
For more information about Smart Snacks in School or school wellness policies, contact Lauren Kelsey, Obesity Prevention School Partnership Coordinator, at email@example.com
Photograph courtesy of the Mat-Su Borough School District
Each year, the Governor’s Council on Disabilities & Special Education awards its Inclusive Practice Award to one or more educators who work to ensure students experiencing disabilities have the opportunity to be included in school activities. Nominations for the award are made by parents, students and educators to recognize the outstanding efforts of those around the state who provide positive learning environments for students experiencing disabilities and their peers.
The 2017 winner of the Inclusive Practice Award is the Service High School Partners Club in Anchorage. The Service High School Partners Club, created in 2001, is made up of 30 students with intellectual disabilities, eight staff members, 72 peer teachers, and 100 partners who work together on educational goals, life skills activities, and community inclusion. Led by life skills and special education teacher Adam Ahonen, the Partners Club works to develop activities that both promote awareness and inclusion of all students.
The Partners Club has a coffee shop and a Special Olympics group, and also works with multiple sports teams. Observers and participants say the Partners Club has encouraged a school culture at Service High where students with disabilities are actively included in school assemblies, drama productions, choir, prom and dances, sporting events, and after school activities.
Ahonen says the club also participates in community events, such as entering the Fur Rondy snow sculpting competition. This spring, he is excited about the chance for Partners Club members to participate in track and field.
“Alaska is the first state to have a unified sporting event, involving both special education and regular curriculum students, that is recognized and sanctioned by the state’s school activities organization,” he said. “That’s exciting. The most important part of this for me is seeing that Partners Club is a catalyst for social inclusion and enhancing the overall community in our schools.”
Rachel Robinson, a Partners Club member with Down syndrome, said that she loves the activities she gets to take part in, including floor hockey, bowling, skiing, basketball and cheerleading.
“I was the captain for cheerleading for hockey,” she said.
Service High School also offers a related elective class in which students in the general education population can sign up to act as peer teachers for students experiencing disabilities in the life skills program.
Erica Christopherson is one of those peer teachers. She accompanies Rachel and her classmates experiencing disabilities while they carry out basic jobs around school — washing dishes in the cafeteria or shredding papers in the office — and guides them while they complete their daily journal entries.
Although Christopherson works with the Partners Club for school credit, she also spends a lot of her own time there, simply because she enjoys it.
“Mr. A’s room is always open and welcoming,” she said. “I’m in here almost every day at lunch, just hanging out with the students and the other peer teachers. It’s a lot of fun.”
In 2015, Play Every Day created a video public service announcement focused on the importance of daily physical activity for children of all abilities. Congratulations to the Partners Club and other nominees for the 2017 Inclusive Practice Award for putting that goal into action.
Below is the complete list of nominees for the Governor’s Council on Disabilities & Special Education 2017 Inclusive Practice Award. Congratulations to all nominees for their important work educating and supporting Alaska children of all abilities.
• Monique Christiansen: Intensive Needs Program, Palmer Junior Middle School, Palmer
• Deb Evensen: FASD educator and consultant, Homer
• Gail Greenhalagh: Alaska Transition Outcomes Project (ATOP) Coordinator, SERRC, Juneau
• Jennifer Hilder and Pam Penrose: Teachers and mentors, Craig Elementary and Craig Middle School, Craig
• Hope School Team: Patricia Truesdell, Sandra Barron, Diane Olthuis, Eugene, Moseley, and Sara Fortin, Hope
• Pauline Johnson: Paraprofessional, Angoon Elementary, Angoon
• Lisa Kelzenberg: Adaptive Physical Education Teacher, Eagle River High School, Eagle River
• Robyn Meyer: Pre-school teacher, Northwood ABC Elementary, Anchorage
• Nikolaevsk School Instructional Team: Robanne Stading, Jared Copeland, Kelli Hickman, Steve Klaich, Heather Pancratz, Krista Parrett, Michael Sellers, and Jeri Trail, Nikolaevsk
• Paul Banks Elementary Special Education Department: Ray Archuleta, Stephanie Fain, Melissa Gersdorf, Mindy Hunter, Monica Glenn, Donna Sander, Amy Sundheim, Melissa Arno, Vicki Berney, Daniel Bunker, Bobby Copeland-McKinney, Luke Eckert, Anna Germundson, Noreen O’Brien-Dugan, Jennifer Poss, Katy Rice, and Kristi Wickstrom, Homer
• Katherine Pittman: Special Education teacher, Glacier Valley Elementary, Juneau
• Amanda Rugg: Structured Learning Classroom teacher, Bowman Elementary, Anchorage
• Sally Stockhausen: Teacher and team leader, Kayhi High School, Ketchikan
• Tri-Valley School Team: JoHanna Sesito, Bonny Hamm and Angelica Hayes, Ivana Haverlikova, Natile Brandt, Erinn Martin, Jennifer Hancock, Sarah Walker, Jody Stamps and Danielle Talerico, Healy
• Christine Zelinsky: Department Chair and Brandy Jones, Steven Odom, Tracie Ashman, and Anne Paley, Dimond High School, Anchorage
For the best health, youth need 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but only a fraction of youth meet that target. For example, in 2015, only one in five Alaska high school students got 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
For good health, even one sugary drink a day is too much, but almost half of Alaska youth say they drank at least one sugary drink — such as a soda or sports drink — every single day.
A lack of daily activity and daily consumption of sugary drinks can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Today, too many Alaska high school students are overweight or obese.
We know all of this about Alaska teens because, like most other states, Alaska participates in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The YRBS is a paper and pencil survey of Alaska students in public traditional and alternative high schools. Alternative schools teach students who face higher risks and benefit from a non-traditional school setting. The voluntary, anonymous survey is a joint project between the Alaska Departments of Health and Social Services and Education and Early Development, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, school districts, and staff.
The YRBS collects information about Alaska teens, including their behaviors that affect health. Students across the state complete the YRBS in odd-numbered years, with the 2017 YRBS taking place right now in high schools from Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) to Ketchikan. About 7,000 high school students from about 30 school districts participate in the survey every other year.
“Many different organizations rely on the YRBS, including state programs, school districts, tribal organizations, and statewide and community coalitions,” said Kate Oliver, statewide coordinator for the Alaska YRBS Program. “These organizations use YRBS results for needs assessments, to design and evaluate programs, and to apply for grant funding that supports projects to improve the health and wellness of Alaska youth.”
The statewide YRBS results focus on the health and risk behaviors of both traditional and alternative high school students in Alaska. In addition, many school districts choose to conduct their own YRBS to give them information about their districts’ students. Alaska results can be compared with national YRBS data to better understand how Alaska’s doing, and historical data from the YRBS can be used to assess the risk behaviors of Alaska teens over time.
In 2015, YRBS results revealed important information about the physical activity level, time spent in front of computers and televisions, sugary drink consumption, and body weights of Alaska teens.
In 2015, 21% of Alaska traditional high school students got the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day, and even fewer (16%) Alaska alternative high school students met this mark. Among both groups, a higher percentage of males than females were physically active every day. Compared to U.S. traditional high school students, fewer Alaska students met the 60-minutes-a-day target. There hasn’t been a significant change in daily physical activity in over five years.
In 2015, one in three Alaska teens (traditional and alternative high school students) spent three or more hours playing video and computer games or using a computer for something other than school work on an average school day. Compared to the United States, fewer Alaska teens spend as much time in front of a screen, but Alaska is still seeing a concerning trend. Since 2007, the percentage of traditional high school students using these devices for three hours or more every day has increased significantly.
Sugary Drink Consumption
Forty-six percent of traditional high school students consumed at least one sugary drink, such as a soda or sports drink, every day in 2015. Over half (55%) of Alaska alternative high school students consumed at least one sugary drink each day.
Overweight and Obesity
In 2015, 17% of traditional high school students were overweight and 14% were obese, which was similar to national YRBS results. However, a significantly higher percentage of Alaska alternative high school students were obese (23%), as compared to traditional high school students.
Are you interested in the results of the 2017 Alaska YRBS? Watch for a preliminary report in the winter of 2017. A full 2017 YRBS report will be published in 2018. If you’d like to learn more about the Alaska YRBS, visit http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Chronic/Pages/yrbs/yrbs.aspx
Making small shifts in our food choices can add up over time. This year's theme for National Nutrition Month® in March inspires us to start with small changes in our eating habits – one forkful at a time. So whether you are planning meals to prepare at home or making selections when eating out, Put Your Best Fork Forward to help find your healthy eating style.
“Healthy eating should be enjoyable and ‘doable’ for your entire life”, says Diane Peck, registered dietitian nutritionist with the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program. “Focus on eating healthy foods that you like and being active to help stay healthy and manage your weight.”
Think nutrient-rich, rather than "good" or "bad" foods. The majority of your food choices should be packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, and lower in calories. Here are a few tips for making smart food choices:
• Choose healthy drinks. Drink water or low-fat milk, instead of sugary drinks. For variety, add fresh or frozen fruit to a glass or pitcher of cold water, try unsweetened hot or cold caffeine-free tea, or add a splash of 100% fruit juice to club soda or seltzer water.
• Eat more fruits and vegetables. All forms of fruits and vegetables provide healthful benefits – fresh, frozen, canned and dried. Traditional foods – such as berries, sourdock, and beach greens – are especially high in nutrients.
• Focus on variety. Choose a variety of healthful foods in all food groups to help reduce the risk of preventable, lifestyle-related chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and obesity. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage us to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables; whole grains, such as oats and 100% whole wheat bread; healthy proteins, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts; and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products.
• Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for strong bones and may contribute to overall good health. Alaskans should select foods that are high in vitamin D, such as Alaska salmon and vitamin D fortified non- or low-fat milk, and should talk with their health care providers about vitamin D and the risks and benefits of supplementation.
• Play every day. Choose activities that you enjoy and want to do each day. Remember, children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Find fun activities that get the whole family moving, like sledding or going for a walk.
ChooseMyPlate.gov has resources to help you achieve your healthy eating goals this month, and all year long.
National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing good eating and physical activity habits. Play games, download tip sheets, view recipe videos and more at http://sm.eatright.org/NNMinfo.
Young children across Alaska are learning how to become healthy eaters and active kids by doing what comes naturally to them — looking at books and playing with toys.
Child care providers play an important role in helping to develop healthy eating and physical activity habits in young children. The Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program worked with the national Let's Move initiative and Thread, Alaska’s Child Care Resource and Referral Network, to provide training and resources to child care centers and day care homes to support healthy eating and physical activity habits. These habits include providing water to thirsty children, rather than sugary drinks, and increasing time spent in active play.
“Our goal is to help the youngest Alaskans grow up at a healthy weight,” said Diane Peck with the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program. “Child care programs can provide a healthy environment for children to eat, play, grow, and develop healthy habits for life.”
To help make these changes fun for kids, the program provides resources that encourage healthy eating and active play, such as age-appropriate physical activity equipment, fruit and vegetable food models, and children’s books highlighting healthy foods and kids being active.
Kelley Polasky, with Friendly Days Childcare in Juneau, recently completed the program.
“I've really enjoyed the toys and resources provided through the Let's Move initiative. The resources gave us great ideas for organized and free play,” she said. “The kids especially love the wrist ribbons! They are played with every day. From free dance to organized movements, they are a hit! We also have a toy kitchen, and the healthy toy foods allow the children to cook and pretend serving foods that are good for them. ”