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May 26
Celebrating what's served on the plate: Serving the youngest Alaskans local, traditional foods

May 26, 2022 — Children as young as 3, 4 and 5 eat duck soup for lunch at King Cove’s Head Start. In Chevak, these preschoolers eat caribou stew. In the Bristol Bay Borough School District, the little ones’ families sit at the table to eat traditional foods together.

That’s how child care and preschool programs are introducing Alaska foods and traditions to children at very early ages. That helps kids learn about and celebrate their cultures, and at the same time serves nutritious meals to children who are still exploring food and drink options.

Young children feel their best when served healthy foods and drinks with little or no added sugars, and traditional Alaska foods meet that need. Serving local, regional foods to children as early as possible can help them learn to love eating these healthy foods for the rest of their lives. 

A child lifts a spoonful of delicious reindeer stew up to their mouth while the class eats lunch together.
Children at Cook Inlet Head Start in Anchorage enjoy reindeer stew for lunch.

Traditional foods have become less familiar to children

Tracy Stewart is the Traditional Foods Program Coordinator with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA). According to Stewart, a survey conducted by APIA in 2002 showed a decline in the use of traditional foods, while obesity and diabetes increased.

Traditional Alaska foods — such as fish, wild game and berries — are great sources of nutrients and healthy fats with no added sugars. Store-bought foods, on the other hand, are often highly processed with lower amounts of nutrients and higher amounts of unhealthy fats and sugars.

“The nutritional value and benefit from traditional foods is important for the people in the region,” said Sue Unger, Wellness Lead at APIA. “It’s important for them to get healthy foods.”

Stewart and Unger helped develop a traditional food curriculum for its Head Start programs.

“We got feedback from the Head Start programs that a lot of the nutritional materials that were being used weren’t applicable to our region,” Stewart said. “It would give examples of a star fruit or a passion fruit, something that these kids had no access to and had never seen before.”

Fish, however, is available at all Head Start sites in Stewart’s region, so she includes fish on lunch plates and in lesson plans.

“The kids have really enjoyed the salmon unit and doing projects with them, like painted fish prints,” Stewart said.

Original artwork "Tidal foods harvest" features an intertidal beach scene with chiton, seaweed and more

Artwork for the Qaqamiiĝux̂ Head Start Traditional Food for Preschoolers Curriculum, by Sharon Kay

Cultural, nutrition-focused education looks different everywhere it’s taught

Learning about traditional foods is as important as eating them. Child care programs across Alaska have created lesson plans that feature foods that are important in their regions.

Lea Palmer is the Dietitian and Food Service Lead with the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc. (RurAL CAP) Head Start Program. They are trying their new Got Neqpiaq Traditional Foods Head Start Curriculum at 12 Head Start sites this year.

“I love that this curriculum teaches children about healthy living in a way that is culturally relevant,” Palmer said. “Healthy living does not have to look the same for everyone. Every culture has healthy aspects. When those healthy traditional lifestyles are embraced in lessons, young children can develop healthy habits that will not only support their growth and development, but also help them develop a sense of connection to cultural values, community, and family, and a sense of self-identity.”

RurAL CAP’s Got Neqpiaq, which means “Got Real Food,” curriculum focuses on healthy, traditional living in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region. Each themed unit teaches Head Start students the importance of eating healthy subsistence foods, staying active with traditional dancing and games, learning from family and elders, and connecting to cultural values.

In the Aleutian Pribilof Islands region, Unger joined elders, community leaders and local traditional food experts to write a book to help preserve local traditional food knowledge and improve people’s health. Qaqamiiĝux̂ — which means “to hunt or fish for food and collect plants” or “subsistence” —includes information on harvesting, preserving, and nutritional facts, as well as recipes using foods of the Aleutian region. This book and information is the basis for the Qaqamiiĝux̂ Head Start Traditional Food for Preschoolers Curriculum. Each lesson focuses on a local plant or animal and includes a poster showing how that food is harvested and preserved, fun activities, stories, and the Aleut “unangam tunuu” (language) and “unangax” (values).

In the Bristol Bay Borough School District, Esther Pepin is working on a new curriculum for their Yup'ik and Dena'ina preschoolers. Pepin, the Early Childhood Director, said the district is designing meaningful play materials, such as small-sized plexiglass and wood ulus.

“The felt fish we were able to make with a 3-D printer are a big hit with the kids,” said Pepin.

Child care sites and schools must meet the Alaska Food Safety and Sanitation Program requirements and guidelines for serving traditional foods, including how foods should be harvested, prepared and stored. Many traditional foods must be donated, not purchased, so programs work with community members to get the donated foods they need.

Learn more through Alaska traditional food resources

There are many resources to help child care providers teach young children about traditional Alaska foods:

  • The Wellness Guide for Alaska’s Young Children has a section on including traditional foods for child care providers.
  • The Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) has a “Tundra to Table” video and mini-magazine series featuring blueberries, cranberries, fiddlehead ferns, fireweed, rhubarb, salmonberries and sourdock.
  • The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Wellness Program has The Store Outside Your Door video series that highlights harvesting and cooking traditional foods from around the state.
  • The Alaska Department of Fish & Game has information and lessons on Alaska’s wild animals and fish for early childhood teachers.
April 26
Getting kids back in the game: New Alaska program removes cost and other hurdles preventing kids from joining activities

APRIL 26, 2022 — Teachers like Abe Salmon can see when their students need something that’s keeping them out of an activity. The physical education teacher in Wasilla knew kids would be cold when he took them outside for class, given many didn’t have coats. 

As the wrestling coach at Wasilla’s Redington Sr. Junior and Senior High School, Salmon could see some students were lacking a key piece of gear: special shoes that can cost up to $100. Finding the money to buy the coat or cover those wrestling shoes was too much for many families. 

“Sometimes even that is a barrier to competing,” Salmon said. “If I can take that barrier out the way, I will.”

Salmon wanted to put these kids at ease, help them not worry about the cost. Join the wrestling team, he said, and we’ll figure out the need for shoes once we get rolling.

Salmon figured it out by working with a new program in Alaska called the Game Changer, which is run through Alaska’s nonprofit Healthy Futures. Throughout the year, Healthy Futures staff consider and approve Game Changer applications to provide scholarships that help children ages 5–18 participate in activities, buy sports equipment, get basic clothing items and more.  

This winter, Salmon filled out an application to cover the cost of shoes and new protective head gear for his school’s wrestlers. The next month, his application was approved. This year, paying for the cost of shoes wouldn’t prevent a student from joining Salmon’s wrestling team.

And that’s the whole point of the Game Changer program:  Remove whatever hurdle is blocking a child from participating, and then get them back in the game.


The Basics program provided running shoes to help a rural school host its first cross country running meet.

Creating the Game Changer program

The goal of Game Changer isn’t new in Alaska, but the name is. During the past year, Healthy Futures took over a long-running program that was called The Basics and then expanded it, renaming it the Game Changer fund. 

The Basics was a nonprofit program founded and run for almost a decade by Pam Skogstad. Skogstad, who lives in Hope, is a physical education specialist with about 30 years of experience adapting PE for children of all abilities in Alaska’s public schools.

From the beginning, The Basics set out to improve equity in terms of youth participating in healthy physical activities. What could it provide to ensure more kids could participate in activities and sports? Skogstad knew the need was there for a program like The Basics. A nurse at a Mat-Su school let Skogstad know a student got off the bus wearing only socks. Another student wore bags taped around their shoes to keep them from falling off. 

The Basics worked with school districts and professionals across Alaska, including counselors, teachers and nurses. Those school leaders would hear about a child in need and request help through The Basics. Each time, the request was discreet, minimizing the chance a child would feel singled out or recognized as someone in need of shoes, coats or other items.


The Basics program sent gym shoes to elementary-age students who needed them in Mat-Su Borough schools.

Between 2012 and 2021, The Basics helped 10,000 students in school districts from Dillingham to Kenai to Mat-Su. The Basics was able to fill these needs due to funding and support from partners, including the Mat-Su Health Foundation, ConocoPhillips, GCI, and others. Over the years, The Basics supported so many students that success stories started stacking up. A rural Alaska school needed gear to outfit a cross country running team. If they had that gear, they could compete and host the school’s first invitational cross country meet. The Basics provided the team with shoes and the meet was scheduled.

“Being able to put on a meet has immediate and long-term benefits for youth, their families and communities,” said Kayla Williamson, who worked with The Basics.

An Alaska wrestling team had enough students to compete, but they couldn’t afford the gear. The team was from a Title 1 high school, which means the school serves a high percentage of students from families with lower incomes. The Basics provided wrestling shoes and gear to the team.

“The team went on to win the state championship,” Williamson said. 

Winning a championship is success enough, but Williamson said that win can lead to other wins for student athletes. It could improve their chances of earning a scholarship for college, building healthy habits and simply boosting confidence.

In recent years, The Basics faced challenges staffing its volunteer board. Skogstad and board member Rick Hansen looked for a way to continue the work through another organization.

“I couldn’t just walk away from the need,” Skogstad said.

Hansen helped connect Skogstad with Healthy Futures. Harlow Robinson, executive director for Healthy Futures and the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, worked with board members to take over the role of The Basics, believing it fit with the Healthy Futures mission to make it easier for all Alaska children to build the healthy habit of daily physical activity. Then Healthy Futures hired Williamson, who had worked with The Basics and would now oversee the Game Changer program for Healthy Futures.

How to apply

Healthy Futures: Alaska Sports Hall of Fame

Healthy Futures considers Game Changer applications throughout the year. Any adult can apply — a teacher, principal, coach, nurse, or parent — but the scholarship must go toward helping a child ages 5–18. Each request must be $500 or less, Williamson said. 

Adults fill out application forms online, which are then considered by a small group that includes a Healthy Futures staff member, a board member of Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, and a representative from Healthy Futures’s partner on the project – Alaska’s News Source. Each application includes a brief summary of the need, how the scholarship will be used, and academic accomplishments for the students involved. Needs can vary, which means one application may ask for covering the cost of a bus trip to a cross country running meet, and another may ask for help flying a sports team to a competition they otherwise couldn’t afford to attend. Applications could request help to pay for a student to take a class that builds their skills in a physical activity, or could request gear, like shoes and other clothing. 

Sometimes, just one pair of shoes is all it takes to open up possibilities.

March 17
Don't jolt your fun outdoors: Wear a helmet when riding an ATV

March 18, 2022 — Riding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) helps many families make the most of Alaska — adventuring outdoors, staying active, even getting place to place. Families in Alaska use ATVs regularly and many depend on them to get around their communities. 

One of the best ways to protect your brain is wearing appropriate helmets for your sport of choice, including ATV riding. Families want their kids to enjoy riding ATVs, but like many great Alaska adventures, riding requires taking a few safety steps. Riding ATVs comes with increased chances of bumps, blows, jolts, or piercing injuries to the head, which can cause a traumatic brain injury. Luckily, these types of injuries can be prevented. 

“We only get one brain,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer. “Strapping a helmet on is the best way to defend it, even for those quick trips.”

Wear helmets on ATVs

Dr. Zink knows Alaska kids are active — climbing, jumping, and riding ATVs and snow machines.

“But their developing brains are vulnerable, and you never know when you might fall or hit a rock,” Dr. Zink said. “It’s important to wear a helmet every single time to protect our head, even for quick trips to a friend’s house or store.”

Alaska has one of the highest rates of people experiencing traumatic brain injuries in the nation. From 2012-2016, about 1 out of every 5 reported injuries in Alaska included a brain injury, according to an analysis done by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. In 2019, the Alaska Native Medical Center reported  an increase in head injuries — and many involved people not wearing helmets on ATVs.

ATV and snowmachine crashes are among the leading causes of traumatic brain injuries in Alaska, along with falls, other motor vehicle crashes, and assault. The American Academy of Pediatrics shared that ATVs seriously injured 26,700 children younger than 16 in 2015. That’s about 73 children getting injured each day. Many young people experiencing head and neck injuries from ATV accidents are 12 and younger, according to a study of National Electronic Injury Surveillance System data from 1990-2014. 

“There is no good way to fix your brain once you’ve hurt it,” Dr. Zink said. “It comes down to how well your brain is protected. Safety gear like helmets make an astonishing difference when you get into an accident.”

Take other steps to prevent traumatic brain injuries while riding ATVs

Gear Up

A well-fitting helmet is your most important piece of protective equipment for defending your brain. Your helmet should be snug, but still comfortable. It should feel a little tight as you put it on. If your helmet is too loose, it will not be able to protect your head properly. Look for a Department of Transportation (DOT) label to ensure helmet quality. 

Helmets experience wear-and-tear over time and can get damaged after crashes, so they should be replaced every five years or after one impact. You can read more about ATV helmet safety on page 5 of the ATV Safety Institute’s ATV Tips Guide.

Wear other protective gear while riding, too. Goggles, long sleeves, long pants, boots, and gloves help protect your eyes and skin.

One size does not fit all

“Another way to help keep children safer is by putting kids on the right-sized equipment to reduce the speed at which they’re traveling,” Dr. Zink said. 

Riding ATVs that are appropriate for different ages and sizes of kids can help prevent injuries. Follow the manufacturer’s minimum age warning label on the ATV for kids younger than 16. Below are the five different sizes recommended by age.  

Follow the recommendations for riders

Following rider recommendations can also reduce injuries related to ATVs. Many ATVs are not designed to safely carry passengers. On a single-rider ATV, the driver should be the only passenger. On an ATV designed for two people, there shouldn’t be more than one passenger on board.

Find out more about ATV safety

For more information of ways to prevent traumatic brain injuries from ATV riding and more, visit the State of Alaska Injury Prevention traumatic brain injury website

Following local laws and ATV Safety Institute riding rules can go a long way toward protecting kids who are riding ATVs.

  • Make sure children under the age of 16 always have supervision and support while riding.
  • Talk with your family about never riding under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The ATV Safety Institute provides many free resources for parents and children riding ATVs. You can explore some of their resources below:

The DOT helmet Image was provided from United States Department of Transportation’s Check Safety Ratings. The ATV age and size image was provided in the ATV Safety Institute’s Tips & Practice Guide for the All-Terrain Vehicle Rider, page iii.

February 01
Alaska children at elementary schools can get out and play through the free Healthy Futures Challenge that starts today

FEBRUARY 1, 2022 — As adults, we often jump-start our physical activity each new year by joining a gym or setting a goal to walk, ski or move more.

We can ignite that spark for activity in our kids by signing them up for a free activity challenge that’s unique to Alaska. This Healthy Futures Challenge kicks off today in more than 100 elementary schools across the state. Schools and home school programs can still sign up online so more Alaska families can participate and be active together.

For the past 20 years, the Healthy Futures Challenge has provided a fun, free way for Alaska children to track any activity they do inside and outside of school. Over the months, children in grades K–6 earn prizes for meeting their physical activity goals. Over the years, they build a habit that has a long list of positives. Daily activity helps them — and all of us — feel better, reduce anxious feelings and stress, focus on tasks, improve sleep, and prevent many health problems that could develop years later.

Healthy Futures provides a free way for families wanting a healthier 2022

Throughout this year, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is running Healthy You in 2022 to share many ways to feel better, body and mind. These include no-cost and low-cost programs that we support, like the Healthy Futures Challenge.

In 2011, the Alaska health department and its Play Every Day campaign started working with the Healthy Futures program, an Alaska-based nonprofit organization. That partnership continues today to ensure as many schools and children as possible can participate and stay active.

Each school year, Healthy Futures runs a three-month challenge that takes place in the spring and fall for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The Spring Healthy Futures Challenge will begin Feb. 1, 2022, and will continue through April 30, 2022.

Children who participate in the Healthy Futures Challenge aim for the daily recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity — or play every day. Participating elementary-age students will keep a simple log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. They can count active time in gym class and during recess.

Over the years, Healthy Futures has been able to expand the challenge to more school districts, elementary schools and students. In the program’s early years, it offered a free physical activity challenge in about 30 elementary schools during the 2003-04 school year. About 2,300 students participated in that challenge. Today, 106 elementary schools have signed up for the challenge that starts in February. These schools represent 26 school districts that serve large communities like Anchorage and Fairbanks and small ones like Pilot Point, Utqiagvik and Ketchikan.

“During the past two decades, we’ve watched tens of thousands of children participate and stay active,” said Harlow Robinson, executive director for Healthy Futures. “Even during the pandemic, almost 100 schools found ways to keep participating to help children stay active no matter where or how they were learning. Last fall, more than 7,000 Alaska children met their Healthy Futures activity goals, and we’re hoping even more children participate and have fun moving this spring.”

It’s not too late to sign up

Healthy Futures is able to continue offering the challenge to schools and students for free due to funding and support from multiple partners. Long-time partners include the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and Play Every Day campaign, as well as Alaska Kidney Foundation, Mat-Su Health Foundation, ConocoPhillips Alaska, and Providence Health & Services Alaska. The success of the challenge to support thousands of active Alaska children also depends on principals and teachers. These teachers, often physical education and health teachers, volunteer their time to run the challenge in their schools, collect activity logs, and hand out prizes to students who meet their activity goals. Schools also earn banners to hang in their gyms, recognizing high participation among students and longtime commitment to the challenge.

Is your child’s school signed up for the Spring Healthy Futures Challenge? It’s not too late for schools or home school programs to sign up online, making the challenge available to more families across Alaska.

To find out more about the Healthy Futures Challenge, visit the program’s website or contact Healthy Futures Coordinator Kayla Williamson at kayla@healthyfuturesak.org.

January 03
Taking care of yourself is worth it
People walking in the woods on a snowy day

​Move to improve: Making this one change can help so many things feel better

January 3, 2022 – Many of us likely started this week with a plan to feel better in 2022. It’s been a long past couple of years, and all of us are looking for a change. 

If your goals this year include any of the following, there is one small change you can make that will make a big difference. That change is being physically active. The list of benefits from activity is long, so hold on:

  • feel better in all kinds of ways
  • sleep better
  • reduce stress
  • feel less anxious or depressed
  • improve your mood
  • improve your chances of living not only longer, but with better health in later years
  • get stronger
  • improve the health of your heart and lungs
  • reduce your pain
  • improve your brain, including your memory and ability to focus
  • improve performance at school, including a link to higher test scores
  • prevent falls
  • maintain or obtain a healthy weight
  • reduce your chances of conditions that can last a long time — like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and some types of cancer
  • prevent a serious illness from COVID-19 if you get infected

Moving your body every week can make all of these positive things happen. Looking for more details on the connection between activity and these positive results? Find them in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans online (PDF).  

And don’t think it’s too late to start moving and feeling better. 

At age 63, Kevin Armstrong of Anchorage began 2020 with a plan to be more active and eat healthier. Facing higher chances for developing diabetes, he signed up to work with a coach through one of Alaska’s diabetes prevention programs (more on those below). He started doing activities he enjoyed: swimming, golfing, walking, lifting weights. By 2021, he weighed 75 pounds less. He lowered his blood pressure. His blood sugar returned to healthy levels. 

“I’m going to change my life for me,” Armstrong said before recording his story to share. 

And he did. 

“I feel fantastic. I haven’t felt this good in 30 years.”

Children snowshoeing

Getting the most benefits from activity

The most benefits from activity come when you get enough of it every week. The ideal amount depends on your age. Preschool-age children feel their best when they’re active throughout the day. School-age children see the most benefits when they’re active at least 60 minutes every day. For adults, it’s 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week. Moderate activity could be walking at a brisk pace or household activities like raking leaves. Vigorous activity steps up the pace to include jogging and running or activities like shoveling snow.

Some benefits of physical activity are immediate. Just one session of activity can cut your current feelings of anxiety, states the physical activity guidelines (PDF). Being active can lower your blood pressure that day, improve your memory and ability to stay focused, and help you sleep better that night. 

Play your way 

For 10 years, Play Every Day has been talking about the value of kids getting out to play every day for the best health. Taking a recess in the middle of the day isn’t just for kids, though. What if you scheduled time on your daily calendar for physical activity like your kids do for PE class? 

Great, you say, so just do it! For some, blocking 30 or 60 minutes a day for physical activity is possible, but others might need to fit in shorter breaks. No problem: Active breaks of any length, even a few minutes, add up to feeling better. 

Alright, you’re ready to move. Maybe you started the year with a new gym membership. That’s great, but keep in mind a gym might be the right place for some, but it’s not actually needed to feel better.

Physical activity doesn’t have to happen in a gym, in a pool, or on a treadmill to count. Walking is one of the easiest, most accessible and effective activities, in terms of healthy results. Walking is easier on the joints than running and can be done pretty much anywhere. All you need is a pair of shoes, boots or ice cleats and the right kind of outerwear for the weather. If you put your minutes into walking, which is the easiest activity for many of us to actually do, you’ll get all the benefits mentioned earlier.

That’s the beauty of making this one change. Physical activity can happen on your own terms when it works best for you. Get your heart pumping and your muscles moving by doing activities you like. Find ways to get as close to 150 minutes a week of movement, because that’s when you’ll start feeling the most benefits. Schedule active time for yourself like you do a meeting. Set up a date with a friend every weekend to catch up and move at the same time. Taking care of yourself is worth it.
It all counts. It all adds up. 

Follow along for a Healthy You in 2022

We’re all ready to feel better in some way. Follow along during the next 12 months as the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shares ways to feel better, body and mind. The department offers and supports many no-cost and low-cost programs that can help. Here is just a sample — all free:

  • Alaska’s Tobacco Quit Line – Ready to quit tobacco or e-cigarettes? You don’t have to do it alone. This service provides a coach to help you quit and free nicotine replacement therapy if needed. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669, text READY to 200-400, or visit alaskaquitline.com.
  • Online program to prevent or manage diabetes – Run through Omada, this program is offered to any eligible adult across the state. You can participate from home, whenever it works best for you.
  • Telephone-based program to prevent diabetes – Run through InquisitHealth, this program is offered to eligible adults statewide. You can participate from home, whenever it works best for you.
  • Online program to manage high blood pressure – Also run through Omada, this program is offered to eligible adults across the state.
  • Careline – Need to talk? Call anytime if you need someone to talk to, if you are in a crisis, you are thinking about suicide, or you’re concerned about someone else. The conversation is confidential and you’ll be treated with respect. Call 1-877-266-4357 or text 4help to 839863 from 3 p.m.–11 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Visit Careline at https://carelinealaska.com.
Now back to physical activity. Here’s one more way for families to be active together.
  • Healthy Futures Challenge – Teachers and families with young kids, get ready for this free physical activity challenge to start Feb. 1, 2022. It’s not too late for teachers and principals to sign up so their schools can participate. The spring challenge will run February through April. Children in grades K–6 at participating schools will win prizes for tracking their activity and getting at least 60 minutes of activity, 15 days each month.  Learn about the challenge online.

Feeling better starts with small steps. You can do this, and we can do this, Alaska! The important thing is to just start moving.

November 04
Here’s one more reason to get out and play at any age: Staying active reduces your chances of having a serious COVID-19 infection

​NOVEMBER 4, 2021 — Staying active makes you stronger. It improves your heart health. Just one session of activity can make you feel less anxious. A new study published this fall shows regular physical activity improves something else that’s critically important given the continuing pandemic in Alaska: It can make a COVID-19 infection less serious.

The study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine focused on almost 50,000 adults who had a COVID-19 infection in 2020. This journal is peer-reviewed, which means the featured research is examined by other experts in the field to ensure it is of high scientific quality prior to publication.  

The new study in this journal showed that those who were consistently active were less likely to have a serious COVID-19 infection. That means adults who met the national physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week were less likely to need hospitalization or die from COVID-19 infections than adults who reported less activity each week. 

Physical activity benefits apply to everyone

One of the most important notes in this study was how strong this connection is between staying active and your body’s ability to fight infectious diseases like COVID-19. This connection between activity and less serious COVID-19 holds no matter:
  • your age,
  • your body weight,
  • whether you smoke, or
  • if you have other health conditions that can increase severe outcomes from COVID-19.

“Regardless of anything else about us, being physically active can improve our body’s ability to fight an infectious disease like COVID-19,” said Karol Fink, manager of Alaska’s Section of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

“That’s a powerful thing to learn from this study, especially because physical activity can be available to most of us at little or no cost. Activity can look any way you want it to look. You can go for a walk, you can hike on trails, or play outside with your friends from school.” 

Strong link between staying active and improving outcomes after infections

Not getting enough physical activity week after week has been linked to increased chances of several ongoing conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and living with an unhealthy body weight. But what about a link between being inactive and outcomes related to shorter-term, infectious diseases like COVID-19?

The new study published this fall identified 48,440 adults who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 between January 1, 2020, and October 21, 2020. These adults had reported to their doctor at least three times during the past two years whether they had been consistently inactive (10 minutes or less of activity each week), doing some amount of activity (between 11–149 minutes of activity each week), or consistently meeting the guidelines of at least 150 minutes of activity each week.

Results showed that getting closer to or meeting the weekly physical activity recommendations reduced your odds of having a serious COVID-19 infection. Adults who were consistently inactive were more than twice as likely to require hospitalization or die from COVID-19 than adults who consistently met the physical activity guidelines.

Play Every Day and Healthy Futures support active Alaska families

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services provides programs and works with partners to make physical activity easier for families.

Play Every Day – For the past 10 years, the Division of Public Health has run this statewide public education campaign to help children grow up at a healthy weight. Campaign messages and related programs support children in getting 60 minutes of daily physical activity (the recommended amount for school-age kids), as well as choosing healthy foods and drinks without added sugar. Find, follow and share these educational messages from Play Every Day on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube at playeverydayak.

Healthy Futures – Play Every Day’s long-time partner is the nonprofit Alaska program called Healthy Futures. Every school year, the program offers a free physical activity challenge for participating elementary schools and students statewide. This fall, about 90 elementary schools are participating, with thousands of Alaska children already turning in monthly logs showing their commitment to 60 minutes of activity many days of the month. Find out if your child’s school is signed up for the fall challenge, which continues through the end of November. The spring Healthy Futures Challenge will begin February 1, 2022.


September 07
Alaska family practicing “Two Healthy Choices” becomes a social media hit

SEPTEMBER 7, 2021 — Jack Foldager of Anchorage has hit the big time in the social media world — over 14,000 followers on his family's TikTok account and 3 million video views by the start of September. Big deal, you think. Well, he’s 4-years-old.

Lots of news media have picked up his story, including CNN. Why? Jack loves eating vegetables straight from the garden.

Toddler Eating Veggies Play Every Day Alaska

Jack’s dad, Trent Foldager, posted a video of Jack in their garden, eating a turnip right out of the ground and spouting nutritional facts about the vegetables surrounding him.

“It was a simple, cute, fun story,” said Trent about why the video went viral. “Jack’s not the only kid who’s taken a vegetable out of the garden and wiped dirt on his pants. People resonated with it.”

Offering little kids like Jack two healthy choices

While some parents have a hard time getting their kids to even try vegetables, Jack eagerly eats them. How did his parents do it?

Jack’s mom, Oksana Foldager, explains: “We cook our meals and sometimes Jack wouldn’t want what we were eating. We started giving him a choice. ‘Do you want broccoli or beans, a radish or a carrot?’ When he makes the choice, he feels like he had a success.”

In the video, Oksana mentions that they practice “Two Healthy Choices” with their kids — a message that the Play Every Day campaign is promoting in a new video this year.

Two Healthy Choices” models a parenting technique that’s often taught to families with toddlers and preschool-age children. Parents want their children to have healthy foods and drinks. Children want to be in charge of their choices. Recognizing that, parents can give them choices, but limit those options to two and make sure both choices are acceptable to the family. By offering two healthy choices, the child feels empowered to make a choice and the parent is happy with it either way.

Play Every Day supports giving children food and drink options that will keep kids healthy. Eating a variety of healthy foods and drinks supports children as they grow, develop and learn. Healthy options also help protect children from diseases that occur later in life, like diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein give children more energy to play every day, too.

Giving children two healthy choices can help them build confidence and make better decisions about their food choices as they grow up.

“It’s our responsibility as parents to set them up for a healthy future,” Oksana said.

Kids can be picky. Just keep trying.

Gardening and a favorite book about eating plants have helped spur Jack’s love of vegetables, but there are other ways to get kids more involved with the food they are eating. The Foldagers also take Jack to the local farmers market and grocery store. Jack helps pick the produce the family will eat for the week.

“Kids naturally gravitate towards colorful foods,” Trent said. Involving young kids in picking out groceries, helping prepare food and choosing what to eat can make it easier to get them to eat healthy foods.

Jack is still a typical young child with those finicky eating habits that can drive parents crazy.

“He might eat cabbage one week and then kale the next,” said Trent. “We don’t always know what he’s going to want to eat, so we try different things.”

Oksana recommends that parents be patient when it comes to food for their kids.

“Incorporate variety, try new things. All kids can be picky. You just have to keep trying,” she said.

The Foldagers don’t limit their children to healthy food only, but they’ve found that Jack often gravitates toward healthier choices on his own. Recently, they took the family to the Alaska State Fair and bought crab cakes and fries. Jack didn’t want that. Jack had his eye on the carrots at the farmers market stand.

Foldager family Anchorage Play Every Day Two Choices 

Photographs courtesy of Foldager family

Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy foods and drinks. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/playeverydayak or www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.

August 24
Get ready for the Healthy Futures Challenge: Ten years of partnership helps thousands of kids stay active

AUGUST 24, 2021 — A lot of Alaska kids have challenged themselves to get out and play during the past 10 years: Tens of thousands of kids.

Boy running in Unalakleet Alaska Healthy Futures Challenge

Play Every Day and the Healthy Futures program began working together in 2011. The Play Every Day communication campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services was brand new at that time. The staff running it wanted to offer a free program that helped children get closer to the daily recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity — or play every day. It turns out, that program already existed in a nonprofit Alaska-based organization called Healthy Futures.

Still in its early years, Healthy Futures was small, but growing. During the 2003-04 school year, the program offered a free physical activity challenge in about 30 elementary schools. About 2,300 students participated in this early challenge, tracking their daily physical activity. By 2011, 35 schools had signed up to participate. The short-term goal for students was turning in a completed physical activity log for prizes. The long-term goal was — and still is — building the daily healthy habit of physical activity for a lifetime.

Fast forward 10 years to 2021. The Fall Healthy Futures Challenge will begin Sept. 1, 2021, through a continued partnership between Play Every Day and Healthy Futures. This Healthy Futures Challenge is a three-month challenge that takes place each spring and fall for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Participating elementary-age students will 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. They can count active time in gym class and during recess.

More schools, students participate over the decade

Over the past 10 years, participation in this challenge multiplied, both among schools and students. By fall 2016, 175 elementary schools across the state registered to participate. About 15,000 individual students tracked their activity and turned in logs. Since then, more than 100 elementary schools signed up during most challenge periods in school districts that serve large communities like Anchorage and Fairbanks and small ones like Aniak, Utqiagvik and Petersburg.

During the 2020-21 school year — taught entirely during the pandemic — almost 100 schools found ways to keep participating, even though students were learning at home during some or most of that year.

“We learned over this past 18 months that our program provides value, no matter what mode of education a school is using,” said Harlow Robinson, executive director for Healthy Futures. “Pandemic or not, children benefit from learning to build lifetime habits around being physically active. Regardless of what the future has in store, Healthy Futures and our great partners will be dedicated to helping Alaska kids make activity a fun, healthy part of every day.”

Sign up for the free physical activity challenge

Over the years, Healthy Futures has continued to offer the challenge for free to schools and students. That’s due to multiple partnerships, including teachers in participating schools who volunteer their time to collect activity logs and hand out prizes to students who meet their activity goals.

Students earn monthly incentives for successfully completing an activity log, and one student from each participating school will be selected to win a grand prize at the end of the school year. Choices for grand prizes have included active games, like Spikeball and Cornhole. Students who complete more months of the challenge will have increased chances of winning a grand prize. Participating schools can earn gym banners for high participation rates and longevity with the program.

Is your child’s school signed up for the Fall Healthy Futures Challenge? It’s not too late for schools to sign up online, making the challenge available to more students across Alaska. To find out more about the Healthy Futures Challenge or to sign up your school or home school program, contact Healthy Futures Coordinator Matias Saari at matias@healthyfuturesak.org. Support your child to get out and play this year.

I play every day Healthy Futures Challenge 

Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy foods and drinks. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/playeverydayak or www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.

August 03
Your kids want choices, so give them two healthy ones when it comes to foods and drinks

AUGUST 3, 2021 — Busy parents want to serve their children healthy options — quick and easy.

Little children want to be in charge.

Two Choices for Healthy Foods and Drinks in Alaska Play Every Day PSA

Play Every Day’s new messages focus on helping parents and children get what they both want when it comes to healthy foods and drinks. A new message shared this week models a parenting technique that’s often taught to families with toddlers and preschool-age children. Children want to be in charge of their choices. Recognizing that, parents can give them choices, but limit those options to two and make sure both choices are acceptable to the family. That way, the child feels empowered to make a choice and the parent is happy with it either way.

“Our new message uses this technique with serving food and drinks,” said Diane Peck, registered dietitian with Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “The parent offers two choices to the little child, both of them healthy. The child can have unsweetened applesauce or a little orange, whole grain crackers or cheese, water or milk. Serving kids grab-and-go options can be quick and easy, and this message shows there are a lot of options that don’t have added sugar.”

This new message will be shared along with Play Every Day’s other new 30-second video showing little kids eating the healthy options they're offered — no added sugar needed. Play Every Day supports giving children food and drink options that will keep kids healthy. Eating a variety of healthy foods and drinks supports children as they grow, develop and learn. Healthy options also help protect children from diseases that occur later in life, like diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein give children more energy to play every day, too.

Giving two healthy choices to children

The technique of giving two choices to children can help them build confidence and make better decisions about their food choices as they grow up. Many young children enjoy being involved in picking out groceries, helping prepare food and choosing what to eat. Children are learning all about control and autonomy during the toddler and preschool years. Involving little kids in deciding what they want to eat can make incorporating these healthy choices into their diets much easier, Peck said.

“Keeping healthy snacks at home and having them ready to take with you wherever you go makes offering healthy choices easier,” Peck said. “Unsweetened yogurt with berries, a small box of raisins or diced dried fruit, apple and orange slices, raw veggies like baby carrots or snap peas, small bags of unsweetened whole-grain dry cereal, and hardboiled eggs are delicious and easy options to offer your children. Pack a water bottle so you have a healthy drink to give a thirsty child.”

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And again.

Sometimes little kids like unsweetened foods right away. This summer, we filmed little kids who happily ate unsweetened yogurt, broccoli, oat cereal and fish. They drank plain milk and water. Some kids need to try these foods and drinks more than once, maybe many times, before they’re interested in eating them regularly.

If you’re having a hard time getting children to eat new and healthy foods, you’re not alone. The American Academy of Pediatrics shares tips for helping toddlers choose healthy foods and drinks. It’s common for kids to be stubborn about trying new foods. They may repeatedly ask for unhealthy snacks like cookies and sugary fruit drinks. Don’t worry too much if that happens, Peck said. Instead of offering sweetened options, keep encouraging children by offering new healthy foods and drinks many times.

Repeated exposure to new foods can include merely seeing a new food on the table, helping prepare the food, or trying a small bite. It may take 10 or more times of seeing a new food before a child is willing to try it. Continue to offer healthy foods to your child with a positive attitude. These frequent exposures can help encourage children to eat healthier for a lifetime.

Choosing healthy doesn’t have to be hard

When you’re in a hurry, you’re looking for convenient options. Grab-and-go doesn’t have to mean heading to a drive-through restaurant and doesn’t require packaged food with added sugar. Added sugars are sugars that are added during food processing, not sugars that occur naturally in foods like whole fruits.

Families with hectic schedules can use several strategies to serve their children healthy, convenient options. Keeping healthier choices in your fridge and pantry means there are better snack choices when you need them. Buying healthier packaged snacks without added sugar or making your own small bags of healthy snacks can make it more convenient to eat when time is short. You can pack small bags of whole wheat crackers and small single servings of cheese. Older kids can eat string cheese. Families can find yogurts and pouches of pureed fruits and vegetables that are easy to carry in a backpack and come with no added sugar. Check the Nutrition Facts label and choose options without sweeteners. You’ll know that’s the case if the “Includes Added Sugars” line under “Total Carbohydrates” says 0 grams. It is easy for processed foods and drinks to hide added sugar, making it important to keep checking nutrition labels.

Find and share Play Every Day materials

Play Every Day will be sharing more of its new messages for families in the coming months on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and playeveryday.alaska.gov. The webpage housed on the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website is currently unavailable, but repairs are underway. Email playeveryday@alaska.gov to request print and other materials to share in schools, preschools, child care centers, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, and other locations.

Healthy Food and Drinks Options Alaska Play Every Day PSAs 

Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy foods and drinks. For more information, visit www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.

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