In today’s world, children are often “plugged in.” In a 2017 state survey, 58 percent of Alaska high school students reported that they spend three or more hours a day watching television, playing video games, or using a computer or electronic device for something other than school work. Actual face-to-face interaction is becoming less common, and Facebook and FaceTime more so. Taking children outside and to the parks, for long or short trips, can teach them the value of “unplugging” at a young age and positively affect their long-term physical and emotional well-being.
With the increased use of social media, television and video games, time in nature is becoming less common — so much so that author Richard Louv has coined the term “nature deficit disorder” and talks about this phenomenon in his book called “Last Child in the Woods.” In his first chapter, Louv writes “As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may all very well need contact with nature.” It opens up a whole new world, he explains in his book, that children cannot get from time in front of their electronic device.
Matt and Erin Callahan live in Anchorage and both work full-time. They plan their life around getting their children outside on trips of all lengths, keeping these outings varied and incorporating physical activity and learning. Their family recently went to Cordova on the Alaska ferry with their son Liam, 9. Matt said they chose this form of transportation so they could stay outside and learn about the outdoors, including glaciers, whales, and porpoises.
“We prefer a slower pace and more education,” he said. In Cordova, they hiked Mt. Eyak as a family. Mt. Eyak is a ski hill in the winter and a popular hike for locals and visitors in the summer. It has a vertical rise of 2,500 feet, covers about 5 miles round trip, and takes two to three hours to hike.
Erin Callahan is a psychiatric nurse practitioner. When her son was born, she felt compelled to brush up on neurodevelopment and learn as much as possible about healthy brain development.
"Every article and book I read concluded the same thing and that was: Too much connectedness to screens and media is harmful to the developing brain as it undercuts thinking, creativity, physical activity and overall emotional well-being. I always felt this intuitively but reading it over and over really gave me the push I needed to set healthy limits around our kids’ screen time," she said.
To this day, her son does not get screen time during the week and his time is limited on the weekends and in the summer. Erin said that, as a couple, they explain the “why” when their son asks about his television and computer restrictions that his friends don’t have. They explain that his brain and body need outdoor time, time to problem-solve, think creatively and read to develop in a healthy way, and that screen time could limit that.
They have kept him active since he was a toddler, with gymnastics, soccer, swimming lessons, skiing and outdoor play with friends. He participates in a daily summer camp that prioritizes physical activity all day long. He still plays soccer, is taking a parkour gymnastics class that he loves and participates in a cross country skiing program in the winter.
“Luckily, I no longer have to look for the research on exercise and its positive effects on the brain,” Erin said.
“Every day I'm writing prescriptions for people to get out and exercise,” she said. “The side effects are fantastic!”
Alaska is filled with opportunities to play outside with your family. You can choose trails; local, state and national parks; and endless activities that can keep kids entertained and connecting with nature, often at no or low cost. National parks are easily accessible, and the Every Kid in the Park Program gives every fourth grader and their family a free national park pass for one year. Alaska has 123 state park units in nine regions, covering 3.3 million acres and endless recreational opportunities year-round.
Keeping kids active early on can make a huge difference in how they will prioritize activity later in life. It’s never too late to start. Plan a trip with your kids to a park. Ride bikes on a trail and pack a picnic for along the way. Help your kids build a fort in the backyard, encourage them to play outside and set some limits on screen time. Take time during the week to get out there and play.
Resources to learn more
American Academy of Pediatrics
Create your personalized family media use plan here.
Farmers markets are open in communities across Alaska, selling locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Many parents come to the markets with their children, and we’ve come up with a way to keep kids busy and learning about what’s growing in local farms. Bring our Farmers Market Bingo Card and make a game of trying to find three items in a row or all of the items on the card.
Farmers Markets are cropping up across Alaska and becoming a popular way to get fresh produce, support local farmers and provide a fun activity for the whole family to enjoy. Depending on the market, there are also activities for kids, petting zoos, music and locally made crafts and foods.
Kelly Gerlach lives in the Glennallen area. There is a Wednesday market in downtown Glennallen at a local business parking lot. You can find fresh produce from a local farm in Slana, baked goods from the area, as well as music and fun activities for the kids.
Kelly’s daughter Brynna, age 13, enjoys the local market.
“I love the market because of the fun crafts, the petting zoo and the independence I feel when I have my own money and can buy my own food,” she said.
The Anchorage and Mat-Su Borough have 26 farmers markets, including five throughout Anchorage, three in Eagle River and the remaining 18 in and around Palmer and Wasilla. If you live nearby, walking or biking to the market is a great option as many markets have bike racks. The Fairbanks area (including Delta Junction and North Pole) has 15 markets, the Kenai area has 13 and the following rural areas have local markets: Bethel, Dillingham, Glennallen, Southeast (Haines and Sitka), and Valdez.
The Mat-Su farms sell fresh produce, eggs and meats in Anchorage. The Center Market, located in the Sears Mall in Anchorage, is the only year-round market. It is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. –4 p.m. The market has a wide variety of vendors that sell locally grown meats, vegetables, sprouts, spices, mushrooms and more.
Other markets may have only one vendor, but that vendor will have fresh vegetables, such as Dinkel’s Veggies at the Northway Mall in Anchorage. The Eagle River market at the VFW post is open on Tuesdays and has a handful of vendors with vegetables, pickled foods, jams, homemade crafts and a vendor that serves authentic Mexican food.
Families with lower incomes can purchase affordable fresh produce at the farmers markets. Low-income seniors and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) participants can use a coupon for up to $30 at participating farmers markets in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Kenai, Kodiak, Dillingham and the Palmer and Wasilla areas. Visit the State of Alaska’s Division of Public Assistance for more information.
Most markets run from early June to the end of September, at varying days and times, and some end earlier or go even later into the year. Teach your kids healthy eating habits and support local farmers by visiting a market near you. Make it a fun learning experience by taking the Farmers Market Bingo card. Go online to find a farmers market near you.
Planting strawberries in towers, greens in a hydroponic system and carrots in a small swimming pool are just some of the fun activities kids are doing this summer through the Alaska Farm to Summer Meal Program.
Summers can be a challenging and hungry time for children. In Alaska, over half of students qualified for free or reduced lunches during the school year. When the school year comes to a close, these children typically lose access in the summer to the affordable or free meals. To address this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program helps approved sites provide nutritious meals for free to children younger than 18.
The Farm to Summer Meal Program pairs up with these sites to promote healthy eating by growing their own fruits and vegetables or purchasing them from local farmers and farmers markets. This summer, seven school districts, childcare programs and a 4-H Club are connecting students, food service staff and teachers to healthy local foods and learning about the origins of their food.
A goal of the Farm to Summer Meal Program is to increase children’s preferences for fruits and vegetables by providing opportunities for hands-on learning for them to grow, harvest, purchase and prepare these healthy foods. The Bethel 4-H Club found kids usually “pass” on the peas during the after-school snack.
“After planting pea seeds, at least two kids requested peas, which had never happened before,” according to Sharon Chakuchin with the Bethel site.
The cool temperatures this summer slightly delayed planting, but they haven’t dampened the enthusiasm.
“Naturally, playing in the dirt was loved by all,” said Natalie Ray with Ray’s Child Care and Learning Center in Palmer. “We use organic dirt, and children use garden gloves and little shovels.”
This is the third year Loretta Fitting with the Alaska Gateway School District in Tok has participated in the Farm to Summer Meal Program.
“We love to garden. The kids are always ready to learn new things,” she said. “I am hoping to have them start their own gardens at home.”
The Alaska Division of Agriculture Farm to School Program and the Department of Education and Early Development Child Nutrition Programs initiated the Farm to Summer Meal Program in 2016. This summer, the Department of Health and Social Services, Obesity Prevention and Control Program provided funding for seven programs to participate.
Everyone can celebrate Alaska’s gardeners, farmers and local food during the 2018 Alaska Farm to Summer Week, July 23-27. Check out the Campaign Toolkit to find activities, recipes and where to find fresh, healthy Alaska Grown foods.
Alaska offers many opportunities to get out and play with your kids—camping, hiking, exploring and fun outdoor events—and many communities offer an assortment of kid-friendly runs or events at low or no cost. Getting your kids involved in physical activity is one of the best ways to support positive healthy habits they can take into adulthood.
Mosquito Meander in Fairbanks, Alaska Run for Women in Anchorage
Fairbanks starts its summer with the 2018 Mosquito Meander on June 9, a 5K (3.1 mile) family fun run/walk. This year will be the 26th running of the event, which benefits the Resource Center for Parents & Children. On the same day, Anchorage will have the Alaska Run for Women with 5- and 1-mile events for females of all ages and abilities. The run benefits the fight against breast cancer, with 100% of the donated proceeds going toward mammograms, breast cancer research and education.
Other events in Seward, Cooper Landing, Palmer and Ketchikan
Here’s a glimpse of what’s going on around the state for kids:
• Fairbanks has four Kids Cross Country (XC) Runs at 6 p.m. every other Friday evening from June 8 through July 20 at the West Valley High School soccer fields.
• Seward Real Estate’s Bear Bells Run 1-mile event for kids is June 8 and Cooper Landing’s Trail Run is June 9.
• Anchorage starts one of four “Splash ‘n Dash” races, a kids-only swim and run at the Service High School Pool on June 26.
• Palmer has a Kilted Mile Race on June 30. It’s a family event and part of the Scottish Highland Games.
• Ketchikan hosts the Blueberry Fun Run and Walk on August 4. This includes a 1-mile kid’s run.
All of the details of these races and more can be found in the Alaska Runner's Calendar.
Leaders who start these races believe in making exercise fun for kids. Tracey Martinson started the Kids XC Runs in Fairbanks about 15 years ago. She says she started them because there weren't many opportunities for young kids ages 5–10 to run in a timed event that is geared toward their abilities (0.5 mile to 1.5 miles).
“The goal is to help kids enjoy running, not be overwhelmed by it, as can happen if they enter a 5K race,” she said. “We also have the Equinox Kid’s Marathon, now in its 16th year.” Find more information on the kid’s marathon here.
Heather Helzer, a competitive triathlete and ultra-runner, started Alaska Splash n' Dash in Anchorage last year as a way to give kids who are interested in triathlons more competition in Alaska. She wanted kids to have an opportunity to compete or participate in kids-only races. The Alaska Splash n' Dash is a swim/run three-race series, in which kids receive points and awards at the end of the series.
“The goal is to encourage more kids to get involved in the sport of triathlon without the barrier of needing a bike, keeping the entry to the sport low and the race price low as well,” said Helzer. Prices are $20 for one race and $50 for all three races, which includes a medal at every race, T-shirt, snacks and more.
Last year, about 40 kids participated in each Splash n’ Dash, with a total of more than 70 kids for the race series. Helzer said she expects 75–100 kids at this year’s races. Life jackets are allowed, and parents can run the entire course with their child. They also encourage the entire family to volunteer if they're unable to race.
“This is a kids-only fun race with the goal for every kid to finish and have fun,” Helzer said. For more information, visit Turnagain Training.
For more kid-friendly events, visit the Healthy Futures website.
The Eagle River Triathlon is Sunday, June 3, 2018, and it’s a great opportunity to start the summer spending time outdoors with your kids. The triathlon also kicks off a series of summer physical activity events, including the Mayor’s Marathon Kid’s Mile on June 21 and the Anchorage RunFest Kids 2K on August 18.
The Eagle River Tri is a sprint distance triathlon. It has an untimed event for kids ages 6 to 12, as well as timed events for adults and children 13 and older. The intent of the event is to promote a safe and fun introduction to the triathlon, as well as a competitive race for more experienced elite athletes.
Local athlete Liane Nagata has participated in the Eagle River Tri with her daughters, Lauren (20) and Madalyn (15) when they were younger. She said it was the perfect introduction to triathlons for her daughters, as they later completed the Gold Nugget Triathlon in Anchorage.
“The event is fun to watch, and once they did it one time, they were ready to do it again,” Nagata said. “They enjoyed it and the organization (of the event) makes it fun and definitely safe for even the littlest kids.”
The entry fees are $30.00 for kids and $108.00 for adults. The online registration deadline is June 1, 2018, or until the event sells out. There is no race-day registration, except for the kids’ race. The kids’ race, however, has a limit of 250 participants.
The sprint distance for adults is a 500-yard pool swim (10 laps/20 lengths), followed by a 20K (12.4 miles) bike and a 5K (3.1 miles) run. The kids have a choice of a long course or a short course. The long course includes a 100-yard (two lap) swim, a 2-mile bike, and .8 mile run. The short course includes a 50-yard (one lap) swim, a 2-mile bike, and .8 mile run.
Race director Kristin Folmar says 150-225 kids typically turn out for the Eagle River Tri, which she calls a low-key, no-pressure event.
“If a kid swims one lap in the pool and wants to get out, that’s an option,” she said. “It is meant to be a fun, safe, positive experience and an event for the whole family. It is a community event, and the kids get to see the adults participate first. The kids get to warm up with pre-game events sponsored by Healthy Futures and Chain Reaction Cycles.”
For more information about the Eagle River Tri, visit the kid’s page on the website. Families who are interested in signing up for other summer events can learn more online. Information about the Mayor’s Marathon Kid’s Mile on June 21 can be found here. Learn more about the Anchorage RunFest Kids 2K on August 18 at this website. Plan ahead for these fun events!
Photograph courtesy of Matias Saari, Healthy Futures program
In winter or summer, the trails across Alaska are ideal for great adventures. Some Alaskans use them in a big way, such as mushing dogs almost 1,000 miles along trails during the yearly Iditarod race. Alaska’s health department is partnering with the Anchorage Park Foundation to help many Alaskans use them in an everyday way. Anchorage Park Foundation’s “Health on Trails” program makes it easier for people to learn what trails are nearby, how long it takes to walk them, and how far you can go on trails during a lunch break or after work.
“The Anchorage Park Foundation works hard to improve our parks and trails. However, if people aren’t getting out and enjoying these premier amenities, then we aren’t making the most of our resources,” said Molly Lanphier, with the foundation. “Getting out during the workday is one way that Anchorage residents can take full advantage of Anchorage’s crown jewel.”
Alaska’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program worked with the foundation to pilot a worksite wellness map project as part of the Health on Trails initiative. Together they are working with two employers — the Aleutian Pribilof Island Association (APIA) and Catholic Social Services — to connect employees to the parks and trails closest to their worksite and promote workplace wellness.
“The wellness map gives employees the tools, social support, and encouragement to adopt a physically active lifestyle right from their office door” said Karol Fink, program manager for the state’s obesity prevention program.
The custom-designed map shows a safe and interesting walking route that employees can take right from their office door — before, after or during their breaks at work. The maps include the nearby trail’s distance, safety considerations, and a legend that highlights viewpoints, bridges, and other attractions along the path. To learn about the map and walking route, employees were invited to attend a luncheon and take a guided tour of the route with Lanphier from the Park Foundation.
As one example, Catholic Social Services’ map showcases baseball fields, sitting benches, and a warning where sidewalks are not present during the 1.25-mile walk around Tikishla Park. On the back of the map, there are recommendations for changing weather conditions, respecting wildlife, and how to be prepared to enjoy the outdoors.
Encouraging Alaskans to walk on trails before or after work or during breaks is one way to help people of all ages get closer to the nationally recommended amount of daily activity. Many Alaskans are currently falling short. In 2015, 58% of Alaska adults met the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity per week. In 2017, only 18% of Alaska high school students met the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day of the week. The maps are one way APIA and Catholic Social Services are supporting their employees in making healthy lifestyle choices and promoting physical activity.
“Alaska is unique because the weather and daylight is always changing. Finding opportunities that are safe, enjoyable, and easily accessible is important,” said Inmaly Inthaly from Catholic Social Services. “Walking from our worksite makes a lot of sense because we’re already here.”
Go online to learn more about the Health on Trails program.
Alaska is a state where high school standouts go on to ski for a gold medal at the Olympics, shoot hoops for the NBA, and play baseball for the big leagues.
That’s Chad Nading’s story – from East High Thunderbird to baseball player for the San Diego Padres system. For Nading, it started with a physically active childhood and continued through years of sticking with the game.
“In 2016, I was sitting on a couch with no opportunities to keep playing, when an independent baseball team — the Wichita Wingnuts — called me,” said Nading, the former four-time Alaska state champion. “They needed help filling innings because they had injuries.”
“I had no guarantee I would stay for more than a weekend. It was my decision whether to take a chance and play, or retire from baseball.”
Nading took a chance. He earned a permanent spot with the Wingnuts and later signed with the San Diego Padres organization in 2017. He went on to play with the San Antonio Missions.
“I took a chance and got the opportunity to prove myself, and it was the best decision I could have made,” he said.
Over the years, Nading kept sharpening his skills by coaching with the Alaska Baseball Academy
and Notre Dame Preparatory
, while giving young athletes the knowledge he wished he had at a younger age. Nading points to his youth as the reason for his success.
“I was very active as a kid. Whatever my friends wanted to do – roller hockey, fishing, basketball, football – I was willing to do it,” he said. “My parents were very supportive of my desire to be active, as well as whatever I decided to do.”
His experience with sports turned into a passion, which turned into a determination to excel. Nading lettered in multiple sports at Anchorage School District’s East High School, winning state titles in track and field, baseball, and football.
“Sports are humbling, especially in the big leagues,” he said. “Staying positive in tough times and confident in good times has led me to where I am. I had to fight through really bad days by telling myself that I was good enough and tomorrow is a new day to show my ability.”
Nading encourages youth to be as active as possible and try several sports.
“Be coachable, while listening to yourself,” he said. “Take care of yourself by eating well, exercising often.”
He had one more reminder: Drink plenty of water. Nading said he remembers to drink water by carrying a bottle with him and filling it up at least four times each day.
Photograph courtesy of Chad Nading
Have you ever competed in a race when winning meant crossing the finish line before the last note of a song? What about when winning gave you naming rights for a bison? Communities across Alaska are organizing a set of unique races to kick off this spring’s running season.
These events are supported by our partner, Healthy Futures. Thousands of children across Alaska are logging their physical activity this month on their Healthy Futures Challenge logs. These fun events count toward the children’s goal of 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Beat Beethoven in Fairbanks
It’s time to sign up for “Beat Beethoven,” an annual 5K race that kicks off the running season in Fairbanks on Saturday, April 14, 2018. Participants who finish before the last note of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony get a voucher for free admission to a Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra performance. The composer’s well-known symphony is about 31 minutes long, which could make it a quick-paced race on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.
Early bird registration for this Symphony Orchestra fundraiser ends Monday, April 9, and late registration continues through race day. The race starts at 11 a.m. April 14. Healthy Futures will hand out medals to children who finish.
Run in Portage to name first-born bison
Further south, Portage will be the site for another interesting fun run on April 14, 2018. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center has organized the Bison Run Wild 5K to raise funds to care for the wood bison at the center. The man and woman who win the race will get to name the first bison born this season. Go online for more information and to register for the race that starts at 11 a.m.
Race for a healthy heart in Anchorage
April brings the 40th annual Alaska Heart Run in Anchorage. A timed race begins at 9:30 a.m. and an untimed race starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Participants can walk or run a 3K or 5K course at the Alaska Airlines Center on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. The event benefits the American Heart Association to pay for research and programs that help address heart disease and stroke. Top finishers in each age group will receive certificates and ribbons. All children in grades 6 and under will receive medals. Go online for more information or to register.
Visit an Alaska events website to find out more about summer events supported by Healthy Futures.
Photograph courtesy of the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra
Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies can make vitamin D when sunlight contacts the skin. During our dark winter months, many Alaskans are getting very little (if any) vitamin D from sunlight exposure, so we need to think about getting the vitamin through foods and supplements. Vitamin D is important for strong bones and may contribute to overall good health.
“Eating healthy foods is always the best option”, says Diane Peck, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with the Alaska Section of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “Healthy foods provide so many more nutrients and other benefits that aren’t found in supplements. But for many people in Alaska, taking a vitamin D supplement along with a healthy diet may be appropriate.”
Lucky for us, some of the foods with the most vitamin D are found in Alaska. Traditional diets protected Alaska Native people during the long, dark winter. Salmon — fresh, canned or smoked — is an excellent source of vitamin D. Marine mammals, fish oil and seal oil contain large amounts of vitamin D. Oysters, shrimp, halibut, flounder, and rock fish are good sources, too.
Other foods that contain vitamin D include tuna fish, cod liver oil, egg yolks, and some mushrooms. Vitamin D has also been added to many foods. Look for the words “vitamin D fortified” on packages of milk, soymilk, yogurt, orange juice, oatmeal, and ready-to-eat cereals. For a list of foods and their vitamin D content, see the U.S. Dietary Guidelines
The amount of vitamin D needed varies throughout your lifespan. You can learn more about the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-Consumer/
. Besides living in a place without much sunlight, other factors may affect vitamin D levels:
• People with darker skin don’t produce vitamin D as quickly as people with lighter skin.
• Older adults may not produce vitamin D as well as younger people.
• Breastfeeding is the best choice for the health of infants, but breast milk can be low in vitamin D.
If you think you’re not getting enough vitamin D, talk with your health care provider. It is important to note that taking too much vitamin D can have negative effects and may interact with other medications you’re taking.
Fifteen years ago, a small nonprofit started a free physical activity challenge to help Alaska children get moving. The hope was to support children to be physically active every day. This would help them grow up healthy and prevent childhood obesity, a serious problem in our state.
Healthy Futures — a small program with a big goal — has been supporting active children all across Alaska ever since. During the first Healthy Futures Challenge in 2003, just 30 of Alaska’s 400 elementary schools participated. The Healthy Futures program was founded by the late Bonny Sosa Young and her husband Sam Young, parents who were concerned about childhood obesity in Alaska.
Since 2003, more partners started to work with Healthy Futures to support physical activity. Providence Health & Services Alaska is a longtime partner. The United Way of Anchorage supports the program, as does the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, ConocoPhillips, the Alaska Kidney Foundation and others. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Obesity Prevention and Control Program and its Play Every Day campaign became a partner for the 2012 Spring Challenge, and that partnership continues today. Now, Healthy Futures is run through another organization called the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
Participation took off as more organizations started working with Healthy Futures to promote the same goal of active Alaska kids. Look at how the program has grown:
- First Challenge during the 2003-2004 school year: 30 schools, 2,300 participating children
- Spring 2012 Challenge: 110 schools, almost 7,000 participating children
- Fall 2017 Challenge: 165 schools, more than 14,000 participating children
- Spring 2018 Challenge: About 175 schools signed up for the Challenge that runs February through April, 2018
“It's nice to see the growth of the Healthy Futures program over the years, but it's especially gratifying to know that the essence of Healthy Futures has never really wavered during that time,” said Harlow Robinson, executive director of Healthy Futures and the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. “The mission and the core programs have always been fundamentally sound and that is a testament to Bonny Sosa's vision.”
It’s not too late for schools to sign up for the Spring Challenge online. The Spring Challenge runs in February, March and April. Students keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. This helps Alaska children get closer to the national recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity every day for the best health. The challenge is free to schools and students. Students who successfully log their physical activity each month of the challenge win a prize from Healthy Futures.
Staff at interested schools can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about signing up for this and future physical activity challenges. Parents can ask their children if their elementary schools are participating in the challenge (almost half of them are), and can help support their kids to complete the physical activity goals each month.
The map of schools participating in the Spring Healthy Futures Challenge was created in mid February, 2018.