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February 20
State health leaders train YKHC, Arctic Slope Native Association dental staff to help reduce sugary drink consumption across Alaska

Dr. Tucker and IsaiahState health leaders focused on obesity prevention are working with Alaska dental providers to help reduce sugary drink consumption among children and families.

During January and February, Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program staff visited Bethel and Utqiagvik to train more than 80 dentists, dental assistants, and dental health aide therapists, as well as pharmacists, pediatricians, physician assistants and diabetes prevention professionals. The providers with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and Arctic Slope Native Association learned how to use a new, brief guide called “When Sugar is Not So Sweet.”

The trained dental providers are now using the guide to talk with families about the large amount of sugar hiding in many drinks, the health risks linked to that added sugar, and steps families can take to cut back on sugary drinks and choose water or milk instead. The brief guide is available for free online. A rack card about picking a plan to cut back on sugary drinks also is available online.

“This training gave our entire team knowledge and tools that we need to influence an efficient change in our community,” said Dr. Tucker Burnett, a dentist with YKHC. “With this training, we are better equipped to reach out and help adjust our patients’ thinking about what they drink.”

The new guide for dental providers offers another strategy to talk with families about the risks of eating and drinking too much sugar. Sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugar in people’s daily diets.

“Too many of Alaska’s children and adults are drinking sugary beverages, often every single day,” said Karol Fink, the Obesity Prevention and Control Program manager who conducted the trainings. “About 40 percent of Alaska high school students report drinking at least one sugary drink every day. Almost 25 percent of Alaska adults say they drink a sugary drink every day.”

Just one sugary drink can have more added sugar than children and adults should have in one day, based on the added sugar limits in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Helping Alaskans cut back on added sugar can help prevent serious health problems that may start in childhood and last a lifetime, Fink said. These health problems include cavities, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. In Alaska, about 1 out of 3 children is overweight or obese. About 2 out of 3 adults are overweight or obese.

The training offered for YKHC and Arctic Slope dental staff is part of a two-year pilot Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project. The project is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve dental health and prevent obesity and other chronic diseases in Alaska. The pilot is supported by the Alaska Dental Society; the Alaska Women’s, Children’s and Family Health, Oral Health program; and dental providers across the state.

The Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project also includes new public education materials focused on reducing sugary drink consumption. Two public service announcements will air on television and online this spring. One video announcement shows how cutting back on sugary drinks can help prevent serious health problems, including tooth decay and type 2 diabetes. The other video shows parents switching out unhealthy food items for healthier options at meals, but stresses that parents would be doing more to protect their children’s health if they also stopped serving them sugary drinks and served water or milk instead. Parents and their children also will see educational posters hanging in hundreds of schools across Alaska, as well as in public health centers, medical and dental clinics, and in Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) offices. Alaskans will find related videos and educational posts on social media.

Visit our website to learn more about the Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project. Dental providers who want to know more about the guide can contact playeveryday@alaska.gov.

Photograph: Dr. Tucker Burnett and dental assistant Isaiah Anvil with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation received training to use the brief dental guide called "When Sugar Is Not So Sweet."

 
January 30
There's still time to sign up your school to help Alaska kids get moving during PLAAY Day

PLAAY logo.jpgKids at Auntie Mary Nicoli Elementary in Aniak are getting ready to play. So are kids at elementary schools in Craig, Glennallen, Ketchikan, Kiana, Manokotak, Nightmute and White Mountain.

Around the state, about 80 elementary schools and groups have signed up to help children complete a half hour of organized physical activity — all at the same time in communities across the state. They will be participating in the second PLAAY Day, scheduled for Thursday morning, Feb. 22, 2018. PLAAY stands for Positive Leadership for Active Alaska Youth. Our partner, the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, is running PLAAY Day to help Alaska children get active for good health.

It’s not too late for schools to sign up to participate. PLAAY organizers are hoping for at least 150 participating schools, so thousands of children across the state have the opportunity to be physically active on PLAAY Day.

“The goal behind PLAAY Day is to galvanize communities to encourage children to be physically active,” said Harlow Robinson, executive director of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. “A shared physical activity — especially on the grand scale of our state — has the potential to create enthusiasm around the cause.”

At 10 a.m. that morning, children will participate in a half hour of physical activity in school gyms, classrooms, recreation centers, common spaces or even outside. Students from the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation along with Anchorage-based youth will lead the children in an organized and synchronized fun session of activity. Children will be able to participate at their appropriate levels and physical abilities. Physical activities included during PLAAY Day will be able to be modified and adapted to include students of all abilities, Robinson said.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) and GCI will link all of these schools and groups through a free, live videoconferencing session. Schools and organizations can participate in different ways, from toll free dialing into a conference with video playing at their location to interactive video teleconference participation.

Schools can sign up now for PLAAY DAY and will receive more information about the event as the date gets closer. Interested schools and groups can register as an entire school, a classroom, a home school, or an organization.

Along with organizing PLAAY Day, the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame will run the PLAAY Summit on Feb. 23 and 24, 2018, in Anchorage at ANTHC. The Summit will feature experts from around the state who will help teachers, parents, nurses, coaches, administrators and other leaders address many areas of youth and adolescent health, including psychological, social and emotional development. The PLAAY Summit also will focus on physical activity as a way to improve health.

Partners of the PLAAY Day and PLAAY Summit include Healthy Futures, ANTHC, GCI, the Alaska Center for Pediatrics, Alaska Airlines, Children’s Hospital at Providence, the Anchorage School District, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Play Every Day, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, University of Alaska Anchorage, Vidyo, The Alaska Club, Anchorage Running Club, LaTouche Pediatrics, Alaska Pediatric Therapy, Bear Tooth, Kaladi Brothers, and others.

To learn more about PLAAY Day or the PLAAY Summit, contact Wallace Wilson at wally@alaskasportshall.org or Harlow Robinson at harlow@alaskasportshall.org.

January 15
Fairbanks students invent a bracelet to remind you to drink water

Dawson and Zach hydracelet.JPG

A group of 10 elementary and middle school boys in Fairbanks have invented a device to get you thinking about how much water you drink every day.

They did their research this year and learned that kids — and adults — don’t always drink enough water every day for the best health. They want to help you remember to drink water every day, and they designed an original bracelet to help you do that. They named it the Hydracelet.

These boys have a special name, too. They’re called the Philosophers, which is the team name for their Lego Robotics competition. They work together through the Interior Distance Education of Alaska (IDEA) homeschool program in Fairbanks. Lego Robotics involves building and programming robots to accomplish tasks. Each year, the First Lego League competition also comes with a research topic. This year’s topic is hydrodynamics. Each group had to come up with a water-related challenge and design a plan to tackle it. The Philosophers chose to explore ways to help people who don’t drink enough water every day. 

 “I was one of those kids who didn’t drink enough water, until I used the Hydracelet,” said 12-year-old Dawson Cooper, a seventh-grader on the Philosophers team.

It turns out the Hydracelet was a winning idea. The Philosophers won the Best Project award during the Fairbanks Lego Robotics regional qualifier in December, so the team and their Hydracelets will be in Anchorage this Saturday, January 20, 2018, for the statewide Lego Robotics competition at Dimond High School.

“We’re going to give them to the judges so they can see how they work,” Dawson said.

When designing the Hydracelet, Dawson talked with Fairbanks pediatrician Dr. Letha Archer to learn more about water and good health. Dr. Archer said not drinking enough water is definitely a problem she has seen in her 22 years of practice. Dehydration can lead to constipation and headaches, she said. Water also helps your body maintain a normal temperature, cushion the joints, and get rid of waste through sweating and urination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I see a lot of kids who drink the wrong kinds of drinks, so I push water,” Dr. Archer said. The wrong kinds of drinks, she said, are those with added sugar, like soda, sports drinks, and sweetened fruit drinks. These drinks can hurt teeth, and lead to weight gain and obesity, she said. Water, on the other hand, has no added sugar and no calories.

Dr. Archer said she thinks the Philosophers are working on a great research project and she was impressed by the Hydracelet. The team worked with an online company to order blue silicone bracelets in adult and youth sizes that say “Hydracelet” on the inside and have the numbers 1 through 8 printed in a large white font on the outside. Each number stands for one, 8-ounce glass of water. Then the group worked with a 3D printer in the Fairbanks area to create a square-shaped slider that wraps around the bracelet. Each time you drink an 8-ounce glass of water, you move the slider up a number. When the slider reaches 8, you know you have consumed eight glasses of water, or 64 ounces, that day.

How much water you need every day depends on a number of factors: your age, weight, overall health, physical activity level, and more. The Mayo Clinic says 8, 8-ounce glasses of water a day is “easy to remember, and it’s a reasonable goal.” Some people might eed more, and some might need less. Dr. Archer said 64 ounces of water a day is a good target in general for older school-age children and adults.

Zach Burgess, a 12-year-old Philosophers team member who lives in North Pole, said he didn’t drink that much water each day before wearing the Hydracelet. He said he drank only two to three glasses of water a day, and thinks this led to a lot of headaches. He’s been wearing a Hydracelet for the past two months and said he moves the slider over to eight glasses of water most days.

“Every time I look at my wrist and it’s a low number, it reminds me to drink more water,” Zach said.
 
The boys started with a limited quantity of Hydracelets, only about 200. They raised funds to pay for this first batch and sell them for a few dollars each, putting the proceeds toward buying more. Dawson said they are hoping to raise enough money to buy Hydracelets that they can give away to hospitals, clinics and schools in the Fairbanks area. Dawson said he hopes handing out Hydracelets will help teach kids the importance of drinking water for good health. Zach said he hopes children around Alaska — and maybe around the country — will wear them.
 
You can learn more about the Philosophers and their Hydracelet project on Facebook. The team also has an Etsy page for the bracelet.
 
Photograph: Dawson Cooper, left, and Zach Burgess, right, wear their Hydracelets to help remind them to drink water. 
 
January 02
Olympic cross country skier to be inducted into Alaska Sports Hall of Fame

HollyBrooks_web.jpgHolly Brooks is a name many Alaska children may recognize.

They likely heard her voice telling jokes or sharing messages about the benefits of physical activity and the Healthy Futures Challenge during morning announcements at school.

Or they may have seen the Olympic cross country skier on TV in a Play Every Day public service announcement.

Or maybe she has even visited their school to speak to students about healthy activity choices and choosing milk or water instead of sugary drinks.

Brooks is a big name in Alaska sports, and she just received one more honor. Brooks will soon be inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2018.

When considering candidates, the selection panel considers how much pride an individual brings to Alaskans, said Harlow Robinson, executive director of Healthy Futures and the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.

“Holly is a great example of an Alaskan we can all be proud of,” Robinson said.

Brooks is a former member of the United States Ski Team. She earned seven top-10 finishes in World Cup races and two national championship wins. She skied in two Olympic Winter Games. In 2013, Brooks helped the U.S. team win a World Cup relay medal. Brooks has also won the 50K Tour of Anchorage and 55K American Birkebeiner marathon races, along with several prestigious in-state mountain races including Mount Marathon, Bird Ridge, and Lost Lake.

Brooks said she is honored and humbled to be named to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.

“I think it is really important for kids to be introduced to healthy role models and people they can look up to, and it’s amazing to be identified as one of those role models for the state,” she said.

Brooks has been a spokesperson for Healthy Futures and the Play Every Day campaign since the earliest days of her professional career. She said the opportunity these programs have provided to meet thousands of kids and share positive messages with them has been one of the highlights of her career.

“Probably one of my favorite parts about being a professional athlete is the platform you get to speak from as an Olympian,” she said. “I love going into the schools and meeting the kids. Not every kid is exposed to healthy activity and lifestyle choices at home, so being able to be that person in a kid’s life is really special.”

Robinson said that passion is one of the reasons Brooks was selected for the award.

“Her dedication to giving back to the community speaks to the kind of person Holly is, and illustrates the positive impact she's had in Alaska,” he said. “Holly has been a tremendous spokesperson.”

December 12
Winter activity roundup: Plenty of ways to get out and play and enjoy the season

140412 Play Every Day-1926 web.jpg​The holiday season is in full swing, and communities across the state have planned fun ways to be physically active outdoors with your family.

Dec. 16, 2017
Celebrate the Solstice. Go for a walk in the woods in Eagle River, snowshoe in Fairbanks, or head out for a run in Willow.
The Eagle River Nature Center invites you to bring your lantern, or borrow one of theirs, to light your way along the trails to a bonfire. The free event runs from 6-8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 16. Participants can bring nonperishable food items to donate to the Eagle River Food Bank. Find out more online.

If you live in the Fairbanks area, sign up for the free Solstice Snowshoe Shuffle at noon, Dec. 16. Participants will shuffle along a 1-mile loop. Don’t have your own snowshoes? Don’t worry. The event organizers have extra snowshoes available for participants. Learn more at on Facebook.
 
Willow has put out quite the invitation online: “We want to encourage people to come to Willow and run in the dead of winter!” The Willow Winter Solstice Marathon Races also take place Dec. 16 with several options for those interested in shorter or longer runs. There will be a 5K, a half marathon and a marathon. Each course will be on winter trails. The event’s website is filled with words of caution, letting potential participants know they should be prepared for cold temperatures and varying types of weather. The website includes reminders to train for cold weather, pack extra clothes, and consider bringing snowshoes and spiked shoes. “You may need them!” the website said. Read more about this event online.
 
Dec. 17, 2017
Got skis? Great if you do, but don’t worry if you don’t.
Come to Kincaid Park in Anchorage from 4-7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, for the second Solstice Tree Tour. The whole family can ski — or walk — in the woods. Adults and children of all abilities are welcome. Trees along 2.5K of the Mize Loop will be decorated by local businesses and organizations, including our partner Healthy Futures. Find out more about the Tree Tour.
 
Dec. 31, 2017
Run — or dance — into the New Year.
Wrap up 2017 on a healthy note with your family. Join the Resolution Run New Year's Eve near the Alaska Pacific University campus in Anchorage. At 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 31, participants will run or walk 5K of roads and wooded trails decorated with a fun light and music display. The event starts and ends with a party at the Atwood Center. Watch an online video about the run and learn more online.
 
For other December fun runs, check out the 2017 Alaska Runner’s Calendar.
 
Mark your calendar or sign up early. A popular ski event for kids is coming up soon.
The annual Ski4Kids Day is set for Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, at Kincaid Chalet in Anchorage. The event features short ski races ranging from 1K to 3K that are timed or untimed. Children receive a medal and goody bag for finishing. Ski4Kids features many other winter activities, too. These include obstacle courses, a mock biathlon, and more. There is no participant fee for Ski4Kids, but a donation goes toward the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage to provide ski equipment to schools and youth groups. Registration is available online. Find out more about the event.
 
 
November 27
North Slope Borough School District goes soda-free in elementary and middle schools

Even One Is Too Much-web.jpgAdded sugars are getting more and more attention as a public health concern. Kids eat them in sweetened cereal at breakfast. They’re in granola bars and other snacks. Sugar can be added to the ketchup on burgers; the sauce on spaghetti; and the cookies, cakes or ice cream at dessert.

But do you know how children get most of their added sugar each day?

They drink it.

About half of the added sugar kids get each day comes from beverages, which makes cutting back on sugary drinks an important step in improving health. There is evidence that consuming sugary drinks is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. Even one sugary drink can exceed a child’s recommended daily limit of added sugar from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Some Alaska communities are taking action to limit the negative health effects of sugary drinks. The North Slope Borough School Board in Utqiagvik passed a district policy during August 2017 that means sodas and other carbonated beverages will no longer be allowed on their elementary- and middle-school campus during school hours.

Brian Freeman from North Slope Borough School District (NSBSD) described their new policy on a success story panel at the recent 2017 School Health & Wellness Institute

The effort started as a “Stop the Pop” pledge for players on the Barrow high school football and volleyball teams who decided to cut out drinking soda during the season. This then expanded to their booster club’s decision to stop selling soda at after-school sporting events. The effort has now become a school district policy, designating entire school buildings as “soda-free.” 

Going above and beyond

School districts across the state are updating their school wellness policies to align with federal regulations that require foods and beverages sold on campus to be nutritious and promote health.

North Slope wellness team members knew they’d need to update their policy to meet federal regulations, but they said they didn’t think the minimum regulations went far enough. The North Slope Borough School District wellness policy goes above and beyond the minimum regulations to address the concerns of their communities and promote student health. While districts across the country are working to ensure that drinks sold on campus during the school day meet nutrition standards, the North Slope team decided they wanted their school campuses to be “soda-free.” Beginning with their elementary and middle schools, all drinks provided to students for free and brought from home must also meet the Smart Snacks in School beverage criteria. The district team may decide to include high schools in the future. 

North Slope isn’t the only school district taking steps to address sugary drinks at school. Schools across the state are spreading the word about sugars hiding in everyday drinks. The latest posters in the Play Every Day sugary drink education campaign were mailed out to be displayed in about 180 elementary schools that signed up to participate in the Fall 2017 Healthy Futures Challenge.

School districts like North Slope Borough know how important good health is to academic achievement and are doing what they can to help students be healthy and successful learners. Other districts can consider changes that work for their school campuses. Visit this site for more information about Alaska School Wellness policies and Be a School Wellness Champion.

November 06
Sign up your school to help Alaska kids get moving — all at the same time

PLAAY logo.jpgAlaska elementary schools and groups are signing up to help kids complete a half hour of organized physical activity — all at the same time in communities across the state.

These young students will be participating in the second PLAAY Day, scheduled for Thursday morning, Feb. 22, 2018. PLAAY stands for Positive Leadership for Active Alaska Youth. Our partner, the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, is running PLAAY Day to help Alaska children get active for good health.

During the first PLAAY Day in February 2017, more than 100 schools and organizations participated.

"We were thrilled to bring 10,000 Alaska youth from across the state together for a shared experience,” said Harlow Robinson, executive director of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame and co-organizer of PLAAY Day. “We look forward to growing those numbers with the 2018 PLAAY Day."
 
During PLAAY Day, schools and groups across Alaska will organize a half-hour session at 10 a.m. when students in school gyms, classrooms, recreation centers, common spaces or even outside will get up and get moving. Students from the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation along with Anchorage-based youth will lead the children in an organized — and synchronized — fun session of physical activity. Children will be able to participate at their appropriate levels and physical abilities. Physical activities included during PLAAY Day will be able to be modified and adapted to include students of all abilities, Robinson said.
 
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) and GCI will link all of these schools and groups through a free, live videoconferencing session. Schools and organizations can participate in different ways, from toll free dialing into a conference with video playing at their location to interactive video teleconference participation.
 
"Thanks to technological support from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and GCI, we've been able to connect children from every corner of the state around a common cause,” Robinson said.
 
Physical activity is linked with many benefits, including increased concentration and focus at school, improved classroom attendance and behavior, better academic performance, and improved overall health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. PLAAY Day will help Alaska kids get closer to the national recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity needed every day for the best health. It will help children complete the February Healthy Futures Challenge, when kids across Alaska will be logging their daily physical activity through logs distributed at elementary schools. PLAAY Day also supports the implementation of Alaska’s Physical Activity in Schools Law, which calls on districts to establish guidelines to provide opportunities for almost one hour of daily physical activity for all students in grades kindergarten through 8.
 
Schools can sign up now for PLAAY DAY and will receive more information about the event as the date gets closer. Interested schools and groups can register as an entire school, a classroom, a home school, or an organization.
 
Along with organizing PLAAY Day, the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame will run the PLAAY Summit on Feb. 23 and 24, 2018, in Anchorage at ANTHC. The Summit will feature experts from around the state who will help teachers, parents, nurses, coaches, administrators and other leaders address many areas of youth and adolescent health, including psychological, social and emotional development. The PLAAY Summit also will focus on physical activity as a way to improve health.
 
Partners of the PLAAY Day and PLAAY Summit include Healthy Futures, ANTHC, GCI, the Alaska Center for Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital at Providence, the Anchorage School District Department of Health and Physical Education, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Maniilaq Association, Play Every Day, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, University of Alaska Anchorage, The Alaska Club, Anchorage Running Club, Bear Tooth, Kaladi Brothers, and others.
 
To learn more about PLAAY Day or the PLAAY Summit, contact Wallace Wilson at wally@alaskasportshall.org or Harlow Robinson at harlow@alaskasportshall.org.
October 23
New Wellness Guidelines available for Alaska’s young children

AKWellnessGuide_YoungChildren_thumb.pngAbout 1 out of 3 Alaska children is overweight or obese. It’s important to prevent unhealthy weight gain at a young age. Along with families, child care and early education providers can play a big role in helping Alaska’s youngest children grow up at a healthy weight.

Alaska’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program has published a new guide for these providers to help children grow up healthy, active, and ready to learn. The Wellness Guidelines for Alaska’s Young Children: A Toolkit for Child Care Providers and Families are designed to help providers and families develop environments that support and encourage healthy eating, active play, and reduced screen and media time to help young children grow up at a healthy weight and develop healthy habits for life.
 
“It’s important for child care staff, families and other caregivers to be on the same page for young children’s health,” said Diane Peck, a registered dietitian and Early Care and Education Obesity Prevention Specialist for Alaska. “The Wellness Guidelines provide tips for parents to use at home, as well as ideas for child care newsletters and events that can help inform and engage parents. Families can join child care providers in planning programs and activities to prevent childhood obesity and encourage healthy living.”
 
The Wellness Guidelines provide quick and easy information on a variety of topics for obesity prevention in child care facilities. Each topic contains practical tips and ideas for healthy activities in child care facilities or day care homes. These ideas include ways to keep kids active when it’s too cold or wet outside, the healthiest beverages to serve to young children, and ways to support breastfeeding mothers. The Wellness Guidelines contain resources on healthy activities, policies, kids’ books, and more.
 
Alaska’s new Guidelines are based on the national Caring for Our Children Health and Safety Standards that can help prevent childhood obesity. These health and safety standards are the best practices, policies, and procedures for nutrition, physical activity, breastfeeding, and screen and media time that should be followed in today’s child care settings. The Caring for Our Children standards meet or exceed the Alaska Licensing Statutes and Regulations (7 AAC 57) and the Municipality of Anchorage Code (Chapter 16.55).
 
Alaska’s new publication includes a section on traditional foods. Serving traditional foods recognizes the cultural and ethnic preferences of children and broadens all children’s experiences with food. Many foods that grow wild in Alaska are part of a traditional Alaska Native diet. Foods such as wild game meats, fish, seafood, plants, and berries are very nutritious and can be served in child care settings when proper food safety guidelines are followed. Use of these foods can address the cultural and ethnic preferences of many children, encourage community and family engagement, and reduce dependency on store-bought foods.
 
The Wellness Guidelines for Alaska’s Young Children were developed by the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program with input from the Alaska Alliance for Healthy Kids – Early Care and Education Work Group. This work group brings together people interested in addressing childhood obesity in the child care and early education settings. The group consists of Head Start and individual child care providers, as well as organizations that provide licensing, training, and support for child care centers, such as thread, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Alaska Child Care Program Office, and the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC). The group hosts a listserv to provide up-to-date, Alaska-specific information on childhood obesity prevention issues for child care providers. You can click here to join the listserv.
 
You can learn more about healthy eating and active play in child care facilities by clicking here. If you have a question about childhood obesity prevention, contact Peck at diane.peck@alaska.gov or (907) 269-8447.
October 09
State’s Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project shares new educational videos, posters, and materials

Water closeup for blog 100917.PNGIt’s just one sugary drink for your child. That can’t be so bad, right?

But week after week, year after year, the effects of all that sugar add up.

Sugary drinks can lead to type 2 diabetes. They can destroy your children’s teeth.

These are the opening lines of a new educational video that is being shared with parents across Alaska this fall to motivate families to drink fewer sugary drinks for the best health. This video and other educational materials are part of a new partnership between Alaska Department of Health and Social Services program directors working on obesity prevention and dental health. These programs have a similar goal: reduce sugary drink consumption among Alaska families to improve the health of their entire bodies from their mouths to their waistlines to the health of their hearts and blood vessels. Sugary drinks include sweetened fruit-flavored drinks, powdered mixes, sports and energy drinks, sweetened coffees and teas, vitamin drinks, and soda.

This two-year pilot Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project is being funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve dental health and prevent obesity and other chronic diseases in Alaska. The pilot is supported by the Alaska Dental Society and dental providers across the state. In Alaska, about 1 out of 3 children is overweight or obese. About 2 out of 3 adults are overweight or obese. During the 2010-11 school year, dentists under contract with the Alaska Oral Health Program examined the teeth of young children in Alaska and found 41% of kindergartners had a filling or an untreated cavity on at least one tooth at the time of the screening. Rates of past or present cavities were even higher in third-graders, with 62% of students having past or present decay on at least one tooth at the time of the screening.

Reducing sugary drink consumption can help Alaskans improve their health, given that many Alaskans drink too many sugary beverages and they’re drinking them every single day. Just one sugary drink such as one 20-ounce bottle of soda with 16 teaspoons of sugar has more added sugar than people should have in one day based on the added sugar limits in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

• About 23% of Alaska adults and 42% of Alaska high school students drink one of more sodas or sugary drinks every day (2015 BRFSS, 2015 YRBS)
• One out of 5 Alaska parents of elementary-age children serves their children a sugary drink every day, and two out of three parents serve their kids sugary drinks one or more times each week. (2014 Play Every Day Statewide Telephone Survey)

Beginning this month, Alaskans will see new public education materials focused on reducing sugary drink consumption. They will see two public service announcements airing on television and online. One video announcement shows how cutting back on sugary drinks can help prevent serious health problems, including tooth decay and type 2 diabetes. The other video shows parents switching out unhealthy food items for healthier options at meals, but stresses that parents would be doing more to protect their children’s health if they also stopped serving them sugary drinks and served water or low-fat milk instead. Parents and their children also will see educational posters hanging in hundreds of schools across Alaska, as well as in public health centers, medical and dental clinics, and in Women, Infants, and Children offices. Alaskans will find related videos and educational posts on social media.

The Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project will include a special guide to help dentists and dental hygienists have a brief conversation with young Alaska children and their parents during routine dental exams about the health harms of sugary drinks. The guide will help dental providers ask their patients about sugary drinks, advise patients to reduce consumption, and assist these patients in coming up with a plan to reduce the sugary drinks in their diets and replace them with water and milk.

To learn more about this partnership, visit the Healthy Drinks for Healthy Kids project or contact playeveryday@alaska.gov.

September 19
Alaska school districts update school wellness policies to meet new regulations

Nick Hanson photo for Mat-Su Policy blog.jpgHealthy students learn better. Multiple studies show that school districts can achieve better overall test scores, grades, and attendance rates by helping students stay healthy by eating nutritious foods and being physically active.

One way to improve the health of Alaska students is helping school districts pass and implement a strong school wellness policy (also known as a student nutrition and physical activity policy). Evidence of the importance of a strong school wellness policy is so clear that the federal government has mandated that every school district receiving funds for school breakfast or lunch has a current policy.
 
Alaska School Districts Putting Policy into Action
The Mat-Su Borough School District is one district that recently approved a new wellness policy that limits the sale and marketing of sugary drinks and junk foods in schools, while increasing support for physical activity and physical education.
 
The Mat-Su district updated its wellness policy at the June 7, 2017, school board meeting. District wellness team member Jana DePriest was enthusiastic about the new policy.
 
“We want our students to be healthy and have every advantage to achieve their potential,” DePriest said. “This policy update is in line with efforts we’ve been working on in the district for years, from our 2015 health education curriculum update, our efforts to increase healthy options in school stores, and our partnership with the Mat-Su Health Foundation for mini-grants to increase physical activity in schools.” 
 
Mat-Su and other school districts across Alaska are putting their wellness policies into action. A few successes of Alaska school districts have been highlighted in the Play Every Day blog posts below:
 
Now is the time to help Alaska schools update their wellness policies
While most districts have a school wellness policy in place, new state and federal regulations mean most Alaska districts need to update their wellness policies. New regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) went into effect June 30, 2017. Rather than just requiring districts to have a wellness policy on the books, the USDA now requires districts to report on wellness policy implementation, and gives additional guidance on involving the community in developing and updating these policies. Since 2014, the USDA Smart Snacks nutrition standards specifically require that 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. The USDA also now restricts marketing and advertising on school grounds using the same standards. If a food or beverage does not meet the Smart Snacks standards, it cannot be marketed or advertised at school. You can test your knowledge on changes to the USDA wellness policy guidelines with this six-question short quiz.
 
A new law in Alaska also impacts wellness policies. Alaska’s Physical Activity in Schools Law (click here for full text and more information) went into effect October 16, 2016. All schools must establish guidelines to provide opportunities for nearly an hour of physical activity for students in grades K-8 during each full school day. Districts across the state are making creative changes to ensure that students are up and moving through physical education, recess, and in-classroom activities. 
 
You can get involved to make your district a success story, too. Alaska’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program joined the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development Child Nutrition Program to develop a Gold Standard School Wellness policy that meets all state and federal requirements. A similar update to the Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB) model wellness policy (BP 5040 ‘Student Nutrition and Physical Activity’) was shared with AASB subscribing districts in April 2017.  Check out this site for more information about Alaska School Wellness policies and Be a School Wellness Champion.
 
For more information about school wellness policies, contact Lauren Kelsey, Obesity Prevention School Partnership Coordinator, at lauren.kelsey@alaska.gov.
 
Photograph caption:  Nick Hanson, an American Ninja Warrior contestant from Unalakleet, visits Meadow Lakes Elementary in the Mat-Su Borough School District in 2017 to help students try some of his obstacles and teach them about the large amount of sugar hiding in sugary drinks.
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