I recently had the opportunity to interview Rob Bisceglie, the CEO of Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK). This organization works to fight childhood obesity, undernourishment and physical inactivity by helping schools become healthier places so kids can live healthier lives. They provide resources to volunteers in schools and school health leaders across the country to learn about physical activity and nutrition best practices in school, act through programs which promote healthy lifestyles and wellness policies in schools, and transform schools to provide healthier foods, physical education and comprehensive physical activity for all students.
Blogunteer: Rob, can you start by telling me how your organization began?
We were formed in response to the December 2001 special report, The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, issued by then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. That very sobering report examined the serious obesity problem impacting all segments of our communities and identified schools as a key setting for addressing childhood obesity.
It was such a startling call to action that in October 2002, nearly 500 experts in children’s health and education convened in Washington, D.C. at the first Healthy Schools Summit to address schools’ role in reducing childhood obesity. Out of that meeting, Action for Healthy Kids was launched with 51 State Teams (this includes Washington, D.C.) and 30 partner organizations. Dr. Satcher became the founding chair of our Board of Directors.
Since then, legions of truly dedicated AFHK volunteers – from within the ranks of our 50,000+ network – have worked diligently across the country to fight childhood obesity, undernourishment and physical inactivity by helping schools become healthier places so kids can be healthier. Through their efforts, we’re bringing fun physical activity and nutrition lessons and changes to classrooms, cafeterias and school playgrounds so kids can eat nutritiously and play actively every day that they attend school.
Blogunteer: There are a lot of organizations working with kids, what makes Action for Healthy Kids unique?
We provide schools with everything they need – programs, grants, volunteer support and technical expertise – to create healthier environments so students can thrive.
Since our founding, Action for Healthy Kids and our 70+ partner organizations have turned the spotlight on the childhood obesity crisis so that it’s now widely acknowledged as a top priority by health and public health professionals, government leaders, school systems and the popular media.
Blogunteer: Do you have any facts you would like to share about your work?
Our volunteer and constituent network has grown from fewer than 700 in 2002 to more than 50,000 (and still growing) in 2013. Last year, our volunteers contributed more than $6 million of their time and resources to schools nationwide. Last year, we reached more than 20,000 schools and 8 million kids through our volunteers and State Teams.
Although there are tens of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of fantastic non-profit and government organizations working every day to combat the obesity epidemic, the most recent projections around the epidemic state that by 2030, 50% of Americans may be overweight or obese, unless we reverse the trend. So, there is still considerable work to be done.
Blogunteer: Sounds like there is still a lot of work to do! What is a recent accomplishment of Action for Healthy Kids that you would like to share with my readers?
Through our work to expand school breakfast programming this school year, we are supporting schools as they serve an additional 1 million breakfasts to hungry kids. I’m proud of that program given the importance of school breakfast on student health and academic achievement. We note in The Learning Connection: What You Need to Know to Ensure Your Kids are Healthy and Ready to Learn, for example, that on average students who eat school breakfast have been shown to attend 1.5 more days of school per year and score 17.5 percent higher on standardized math tests.
Blogunteer: Do you have any specific stories of how your organization has made a difference?
Yes, there quite a few. One of the things I’m proudest of is how truly committed our volunteers are to fighting childhood obesity and ensuring kids and their families understand the importance of physical activity and good nutrition.
Rob shared the story of Allison Stewart, a mom who sought out ways to make a difference when her daughter shared that she was rewarded with a cookie for doing her school work. Allison found Action for Healthy Kids online and was impressed by the number of resources available to parents who want to make a difference in the area of school wellness. Allison says her efforts are not just about combating childhood obesity, but also about teaching kids how to be healthy. You can read more about Allison here.
Rob also shared the story of Linda Miller, another Colorado mom who made it her mission to get all the students at her son’s elementary school a free breakfast. Linda did her research and shared the link between a healthy breakfast and academic success to encourage school leaders to serve breakfast to every student in school. You can read more about Linda and other AFHK success stories here.
Blogunteer: How can others get involved in Action For Healthy Kids?
Our volunteers focus their efforts on increasing opportunities for kids to play actively and eat well. These are, after all, the two proven paths to ensuring kids are healthy and ready to learn. So, volunteers, for instance, might introduce students to “healthy” foods through tastes tests using our free program Game On! The Ultimate Wellness Challenge. They might participate in a Get in the Action event at a local school and install or refurbish playground equipment. Or, they might provide educational information to school superintendents, teachers and parents to organize statewide meetings on school health issues for legislators. Volunteer work really varies and is always based on the needs of the local schools, communities and, of course, the kids.
Here’s a sampling of how people can get involved as AFHK volunteers:
- Help schools develop and put into place wellness policies or action plans
- Serve on or advise school wellness councils
- Help schools understand and bridge cultural differences
- Offer expertise and coaching to help schools put in place Action for Healthy Kids’ programs, including Game On! The Ultimate Wellness Challenge and Students Taking Charge, that will bring their action plans to life
Anyone who is interested in volunteering with Action for Healthy Kids can do so by clicking the “Volunteer” button right on our website. And, starting next school year, Action for Healthy Kids will launch a new online Volunteer Center in which our volunteers will be matched to volunteer opportunities happening in their local schools. We see this new technology as a game-changer for our field of school wellness.
Blogunteer: Any last comments you would like to share with my readers Rob?
Yes, please encourage your readers to visit our website, read The Learning Connection: What You Need to Know to Ensure Your Kids are Healthy and Ready to Learn and take the Every Kid Healthy Pledge. By doing so, they’ll become informed on the issues and learn how easily they can make the kinds of healthful changes that will benefit their children.
Thank you to Rob for taking the time to speak to me about Action for Healthy Kids.
If you would like to learn more, visit their website, ActionForHealthyKids.org. You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and Flickr.