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November 28
Play Every Day's  new messages show how one sugary drink a day adds up

NOVEMBER 28, 2023 — How do kids consume more than 6 bags of sugar in a year?

One of the fruit-flavored drinks can give your child up to eight teaspoons of added sugar every day.

They have just one sugary drink every day. 

Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign is sharing new messages that show how sugar adds up quickly for little kids. The campaign’s new Weighed Down with Sugar video explores how the 3 teaspoons of added sugar in a fruit-flavored drink pouch or the 8 teaspoons in a small bottle of a fruit drink may not seem like a lot. But one of these sweetened drinks every day can add up to about a cup of sugar by the end of the week. One sweetened drink every day for a year can add up to more than 6, 4-pound bags of sugar.

 “A few teaspoons of added sugar in one drink may not sound like much, but consuming that every day can add up to too much sugar for kids,” said Diane Peck, registered dietitian with Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “Over a year of drinking one sweetened drink a day, kids will have consumed a lot of added sugar and calories that can cause weight gain and health problems.”

Cut back on sugar by serving water or plain milk instead

Play Every Day is sharing new messages as videoshandouts and more to show how sugar can add up day after day and increase chances of developing health problems for children and adults. These health concerns include cavities, type 2 diabetes, unhealthy weight gain, and heart disease. The campaign’s new messages also explain why sugary drinks can be so confusing for parents trying to buy healthy options for their families. 

The front labels of drinks often focus on what companies want you to see about their products. They can be filled with buzz words and misleading images. Words like “Vitamin C” and “All Natural” can make the drink appear healthier than it is. Drinks can be called “Organic” and still be loaded with added sugar. Front labels for drinks may show fruits that aren’t even in the drink. 

To find out what’s really in the drink, look for the facts on the Nutrition Facts label. That label is often on the back of the drink or on the side of the box when buying multiple drinks at once. It has a line in the “Total Carbohydrate” section that says “Includes Added Sugars.” This line tells you how many grams of added sugar that item has in a serving size. 

To cut back on added sugar, look for foods and drinks that have 0 grams listed on the “Includes Added Sugars” line. That’s the case for healthy drinks like plain milk and unsweetened plain or sparkling water.

Share Play Every Day materials at no cost

Share these new free Play Every Day materials with schools, preschools, child care centers, doctors, dentists and more to help families better understand what’s in the foods and drinks served to children.

October 26
Get little ones outside for healthy bodies and brains

OCTOBER 26, 2023 — Walk by an outdoor playground or park and you’ll see kids buzzing around as the air fills with screams and laughter. To adults, this is just kids playing and having fun. To kids, however, this is serious business. 

Child jumping outdoors and playing on playground equipment

Children play outside at a Head Start program in Nome.

These kids are working their bodies and brains. They’re developing stronger muscles and bones. They’re making brain connections, fine-tuning their motor skills, working on their social skills, and expanding their imaginations.

Outdoor play is more than letting kids expend some pent-up energy. It’s an important part of early development and learning. A review of current research by the Children and Nature Network shows that there are lots of benefits to playing outside.

Outdoor play promotes physical health

When children play outdoors, they stay far more active than when indoors. Children who participate in vigorous activities — such as running, jumping, and skipping — are more fit, have better bone health, and grow up at a healthier weight, compared to children who are more inactive.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children ages 3 through 5 should be physically active for about 3 hours throughout the day for the best growth and development. Keep kids moving with a variety of light, moderate, and vigorous activities so they get some activity off and on throughout the day —unless they’re sleeping.

Parents and caregivers can encourage active play that includes a variety of activity types. Children benefit from structured activities — such as planned games or kicking and tossing a ball — and free play that lets them move as they want. Give children access to outdoor spaces that allow them to express themselves with more active movement, louder voices, and messier play.

Outdoor play invites children to learn

“Outdoor play is another classroom we often forget about,” said Vanessa Plourde-Smith. Plourde-Smith is a Professional Development Specialist with thread, a statewide organization that works to advance the quality of early education and child development. She provides training and technical assistance to child care providers and has special training in outdoor play and learning.

“While playing outside, kids are learning language, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), social-emotional skills, and being respectful of plants and animals,” Plourde-Smith said.

Outdoor play is more than letting kids loose on a playground or backyard with play equipment. It’s about helping children connect with nature. ­­­Adults can provide safe, stimulating outdoor spaces that allow curious children the opportunity to explore nature. Include natural materials in backyards and playgrounds. Plourde-Smith recommends tree stumps and logs for climbing and balancing on and rocky paths for building ankle strength.

“Taller plants where kids can ‘hide’ — although the adults can still see them — are good for kids to feel like they can get away and relax,” said Plourde-Smith. “Kids are also more likely to engage in dramatic play if they think they aren’t being watched.”

Set up a small garden or pots of herbs, vegetables, or flowers and let children help with planting, watering, and harvesting. On warm days, water play with buckets, squirt toys, and sprinklers is a real treat. If there’s a nearby berry patch, give kids small buckets or plastic baggies and go pick some berries. In winter, grab some sleds and challenge kids to pull and push heavy objects through the snow.

Take exploring walks around the yard or to a nearby park, woods, or beach in each season of the year. Talk about the plants, insects, birds, and animals you see and how they change from season to season. Using all the senses can develop a better understanding of the outside world. Touching tree bark, listening to birds, and smelling flowers connects kids with nature. Playing and learning outside may inspire a future scientist or farmer, or just a lifelong love of the outdoors.

Outdoor play improves mental health

Time spent outdoors can help children reduce their stress levels and improve self-esteem, self-regulation and overall happiness. Children become better learners in the classroom because they function better, are better able to focus, concentrate and sit still after being active outdoors.

Ever see a child covered in mud and smiling from ear to ear? Studies have shown that playing in the dirt isn’t just fun. It can boost overall happiness and health due to naturally occurring bacteria in soil that help children’s immune system and produce chemicals that improve mood. The National Wildlife Federation has an excellent booklet on how getting dirty outdoors benefits kids.

Outdoor play and learning don’t stop when the rain and snow falls

How do we keep playing when Alaska weather turns cold and wet?

“Preparation is the key to outdoor play,” said Plourde-Smith. “Start planning for winter in the fall, making sure you have the right gear on hand when the first snow falls.” 

Great options in Alaska include raincoats, boots, parkas, hats, gloves, and even extra sets of clothes should the first set get wet or muddy. Plourde-Smith recommends saving money on winter gear by shopping at garage sales and thrift shops or connecting with other parents for hand-me-downs.

For extreme temperatures and bad weather, many child care sites follow guidelines from the National Weather Service, adopt the local school district policy on outdoor recess, or have a parent committee set a weather policy.

How do I get my child more active outdoors? Get out and play with them!

Parents and adult caregivers are role models for children. Join children’s games and active play. Children need to see the adults in their lives being active and having fun. Help your child develop a lifelong habit of being active outside.

More resources for outdoor play

  • The State of Alaska Play Every Day campaign has lots of handouts, videos, and posters to promote and provide tips and ideas for active play every day.
  • The National Wildlife Federation has a guide, Nature Play at Home, that’s filled with fun outdoor activities and ideas for creating outdoor spaces.
  • The Alaska Farm to School and Farm to Early Child Care have resources to help schools and child care sites start gardens and teach children about food grown in Alaska.
  • The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has early childhood resources to help teach young children about nature and exploring the world around them.
August 11
Not sure what’s in that drink?

Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign shows that turning the drink around exposes the truth

AUGUST 11, 2023 — Wonder what’s actually in that bottle, pouch or box your kids are drinking? 

Ignore the hype on the front label. Look at the facts. Image shows an arrow pointing to the Nutrition Facts label. A circle shows where to look for the Includes Added Sugars Line. This label for a sugary drink has 11 grams of added sugar.

It’s so hard to know by looking at the front label. Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign is sharing new messages to help families see beyond the hype on the drink’s front label to find the truth that’s often on the back. Its new short video recommends that families “Turn the Drink Around” to learn what’s actually inside it.

Turning around a drink or a food to find the Nutrition Facts label can help you quickly spot lots of sugar that’s added to fruit drinks, powdered mixes, cereals, yogurt, snacks and so much more. Cutting back on added sugar matters. Over time, too much of it can increase your chances of serious and potentially long-lasting health problems that include cavities, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and unhealthy weight gain.

“The front label focuses on what companies want you to see about their products,” said Diane Peck, registered dietitian with Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “Fortunately, the Nutrition Facts and ingredient list must be truthful by law. By turning the package around, we can quickly check those facts and tell what’s really in, or not in, that food or drink.”

Ignore the front label of a drink. Look at the facts.

Play Every Day is sharing new messages as videos, handouts and more to explain why sugary drinks can be so confusing. 

On the store shelf, you see only the front label that can be filled with buzz words and misleading images:

  • Words like “Vitamin C” and “All Natural” can make the drink appear healthier than it is.
  • Drinks can be called “Organic” and still be loaded with added sugar.
  • Fruits may be pictured, but they aren’t actually in the drink at all.

Pick up a lemonade on the store shelf, and it says it’s made with real lemons. Look closer and the amount of actual lemon juice is low. It does have a ton of added sugar, though – about 14 teaspoons of sugar in a 17-ounce bottle of lemonade.  Pick up a fruit punch that shows juicy cherries on the front label, but there are no cherries or cherry juice it. Pick up a container of a sweetened, fruit-flavored powdered mix. Its front label says it has 100% of your daily Vitamin C needs, but the back says it also has almost 9 teaspoons of sugar in one serving.

Focus on the “Includes Added Sugars” line

To find out what’s really in the drink, look for the facts on the Nutrition Facts label. It’s usually near a list of ingredients that can include sugar and many other names for sweeteners: high fructose corn syrup, honey and more.

The Nutrition Facts label has a line in the “Total Carbohydrate” section that says “Includes Added Sugars.” This line tells you how many grams of added sugar that item has in a serving size. It helps you see how much of the sugar in a drink or food is added instead of natural.

Natural sugars are those found naturally in a food or drink. That includes the natural sugar in plain milk (called lactose) and the natural sugar in whole fruits like apples and oranges (called fructose). Added sugar is the sugar that’s added to a food or drink when it’s produced. That includes the sugar that’s added to instant oatmeal, snack bars, yogurts, even many drinks.

To cut back on added sugar, look for foods and drinks that have 0 grams listed on the “Includes Added Sugars” line. That’s the case for healthy drinks like plain milk and unsweetened plain or sparkling water.

Share these new free Play Every Day materials with schools, preschools, child care centers, doctors, dentists and more to help families better understand what’s in the foods and drinks served to children.

June 27
Delay serving sugary foods and drinks to little kids

More added sugar means there’s less room for the healthy stuff

JUNE 27, 2023 – You’ve likely heard a few health reasons for cutting back on added sugar for your little kids. The more sugar kids eat and drink, the more health problems they may develop in childhood and later in life. That includes cavities in baby and adult teeth, gaining weight that can make it harder for kids to play and move, and developing heart disease.

But more sugary foods and drinks also means less room for the healthy stuff. Sugary treats and drinks can crowd out the fruits and vegetables; whole-grain cereals and breads; and proteins that include beans, fish, or lean meats. 

A boy pours a glass milk at the table during lunch with friends.
Children at Cook Inlet Head Start in Anchorage enjoy milk, fruit and reindeer stew for lunch.

“Sugary foods and drinks are usually low in nutrients,” said Diane Peck, registered dietitian with Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “When young children fill up on sugary foods and drinks, they're not eating the healthy foods that provide the needed nutrients to grow and develop.” 

Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign supports families to serve healthy drinks, like water or plain milk, to help children grow up at a healthy weight. The campaign has an online library of posters, handouts, videos, and other materials. Preschool and child care providers, teachers, pediatricians, dentists and others can download these materials or request free copies at

Many kids start eating and drinking added sugar at young ages

For the best health, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend children younger than 2 have foods and drinks without any added sugar.

A recent national study showed that many young children have their first sugary drinks and foods before age 2, and often before turning 1 years old. This published study looked at food and drinks served among families with limited household incomes enrolled in the Women, Infants, and Children program that provides nutrition education and healthy foods and drinks. This program is often abbreviated as WIC, and it helps 14,000 people in Alaska

WIC Alaska logo
In Alaska, the WIC program helps 14,000 people.

This recent study showed most young children drink and eat added sugar very early. When looking at 3-year-old kids who were part of this study:

  • 83% of the kids enrolled in WIC had their first sugary drink before turning 2.
  • 91% of the kids enrolled in WIC had their first sweetened foods before turning 2.

The study had two key recommendations to help more children grow up healthy.

  • Continuing a family’s WIC benefits for multiple years as a child grows may improve that child’s overall nutrition and reduce chances of consuming too much added sugar.
  • Helping parents and caregivers understand the importance of delaying sugary drinks and foods served to young children can improve children’s food choices later in life.

“The WIC Program provides families with nutritious foods and nutrition education tailored to the needs of their family,” said Jennifer Johnson, Alaska’s WIC nutrition coordinator. “The food and nutrition education improve the food choices families make and the choices their children will make even later in life, which gives them a healthy start.” 

Delaying the serving of sugary drinks is a priority in Alaska, too. Almost 1 out of 3 (31%) of Alaska 3-year-olds has a sugary drink every day, according to the ongoing Childhood Understanding Behaviors Survey (CUBS) of Alaska mothers of preschool-age children. Some of the most common sugary drinks consumed by preschoolers are sweetened fruit drinks and chocolate and flavored milk. One goal for Healthy Alaskans 2030 is to reduce the percentage of 3-year-olds who have sugary drinks daily. Running Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign that includes healthy drinks messaging is one strategy to meet that goal. A campaign evaluation published in 2022 showed Alaska parents reported changing the drinks they serve their families because of the campaign messages.

Switch out sugary drinks to cut down on added sugar

Added sugar is in many types of drinks that families serve. Sugar is added to sports and energy drinks, vitamin drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, chocolate and other flavored milk, sweetened fruit-flavored drinks, and soda.

Want to cut back on added sugar? Switch out sugary drinks for healthier options that contain no added sweeteners.

  • Choose water, plain milk or fortified plain soy milk instead of sugary drinks.
  • Pack water when you’re on the go. Make it easier to choose water by packing a water bottle in your child’s backpack or lunchbox.
  • Make water tasty and fun. Add lemon, lime or mint to your glass. Freeze 100% fruit juice in small ice cube trays and toss a few cubes into a glass of water. Try unsweetened, sparkling, or carbonated water.
  • Turn drinks around and look for the Nutrition Facts label. A line called “Includes Added Sugars” now makes it easier to spot the added sweeteners in foods and drinks. Choose options that say 0 grams, which means no added sugar.  
  • Cut back on buying sugary drinks. If you choose sugary drinks, limit them to special occasions and cut down on the sizes served.
January 27
Every semester kicks off a new Healthy Futures Challenge at schools across Alaska

JANUARY 27, 2023 — When you’re a kid, every semester is a fresh start. Your report card starts over. Your backpack is cleaned out and ready for class. And if you’re in elementary school, a new Healthy Futures Challenge is about to begin and get kids moving.  

The spring Healthy Futures Challenge begins Feb. 1, 2023, in 89 Alaska elementary schools across more than 20 school districts, said Kayla Williamson, challenge coordinator. The free challenge is all about making physical activity a fun healthy habit every day. Kids who participate aim for the daily recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity — or play every day. They log that activity and win prizes when they're active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month of the challenge.  

Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign has been a longtime partner of the nonprofit Healthy Futures program because its ongoing challenge gives thousands of Alaska kids a free, fun way to get out and play. Alaska’s new Fresh Start campaign is also promoting the Healthy Futures Challenge as one if its free programs for better health. The challenge is designed for elementary school kids, but parents, grandparents, and siblings can join in and be active as a family. Kids can log active time in gym class and at recess. They can also count time going for walks with their grandparents, sledding with dad, or going skiing with mom.

Elementary schools in big communities like Anchorage and Juneau participate in the challenge, but so do schools in smaller ones like Diomede, Shageluk and Utqiagvik. It doesn’t matter where kids live, because they’re active wherever, however and whenever they want to move during the Healthy Futures Challenge.

Kids play outside at Fred Ipalook Elementary School in Utqiagvik, Alaska. Fred Ipalook Elementary is one of 89 schools signed up to join the free Healthy Futures Challenge this spring.

Find out if your child's school is signed up for the free challenge. If so, join your child in being active. If not, talk to your principal or teachers about signing up the school for this spring’s challenge. It’s not too late to join in February, March or April this year.

Healthy Futures is planning one more fun event in February. Its annual PLAAY Day will be held Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. From 12-12:30 p.m. that day, Alaska kids and families are encouraged to join a live broadcast and get moving with others across the state. They’ll do a mix of physical activities that include low-impact, advanced and adaptive movements. Alaska kids and families can join this event anywhere — in schools, at home or elsewhere. Find out more and register to join at

December 28
In program's first year, donations help cover costs to keep Alaska kids in sports and activities

DECEMBER 28, 2022 – A year ago, Healthy Futures in Alaska started the new Game Changer program and gave it an important job: Remove whatever hurdle is blocking children from participating in sports or activities, and then get them back in the game. 

Coaches, teachers, parents and other adults could apply for Game Changer scholarships so children could participate in physical activities, buy sports equipment, get basic clothing items and more. Once the word got out about the new program, the small Healthy Futures staff realized their own hurdle when it came to reviewing Game Changer applications: The need across Alaska was great and more funds were required to meet it. 

Since January 2022, the nonprofit organization received 38 applications and awarded 17 scholarships.

“The sports represented for those 17 awardees are all across the board,” said Kayla Williamson with Healthy Futures. The Game Changer program has helped Alaska children participate in basketball, soccer, horseback riding, cross country skiing, running, baseball, swimming and snowshoeing.


Children at the small Rampart School have fun snowshoeing during the community carnival. The Healthy Futures Game Changer program funded a scholarship to help buy the snowshoes. Photograph courtesy of Healthy Futures.

During the past year, the Game Changer program awarded a scholarship to support starting a new cross country ski team for middle and high school students in Glennallen. The scholarship helped the team buy skis. The staff at Rampart School wanted to teach children how to snowshoe in the small Interior community. A Game Changer scholarship helped buy the new winter gear for the small school. The kids had a blast snowshoeing at the community’s carnival. 

A parent of an Alaska child submitted an application to help him cover costs to compete in a Taekwondo tournament outside Alaska. Game Changer funded his scholarship.

“This youth’s hard work and dedication paid off,” Williamson said. “He came back with a gold medal in his age and weight class.”

Raising funds to offer more scholarships

Healthy Futures staff want to be able to fund more scholarships to support active Alaska kids. To meet that goal, the nonprofit organization held a one-week fundraiser this fall for the Game Changer program. 

Healthy Futures worked with about 30 partners across the state to bring in donations. That included Alaska athletes, a coach of a local hockey team, community leaders, and the Chugiak High School cross country running team – which turned out to be the top fundraiser, Williamson said. Healthy Futures and the community partners raised more than $30,000. In the next year, these funds will be added to donations from businesses like GCI and ConocoPhillips that also support the Game Changer program scholarships.  

“Immediately, the funds raised from the campaign are going to go back out into Alaska communities,” Williamson said.

Starting the Game Changer program

Healthy Futures created the Game Changer fund after it took over a long-running similar program that was called The Basics. The Basics was a nonprofit program that ran for almost a decade. That program 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. 

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. 

In recent years, The Basics faced challenges staffing its volunteer board and looked for a way to continue the work through another organization. Healthy Futures took over that work in the new Game Changer program, believing it fit with the nonprofit organization’s mission to make it easier for all Alaska children to build the healthy habit of daily physical activity.

How to apply

Healthy Futures will consider Game Changer applications throughout the year. Any adult can apply, 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. 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 funds to pay for new snowshoes while another asks to pay for a bus trip needed to take 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 skills in a physical activity, or could request gear, like shoes and other clothing. 

Find the Game Changer program and Healthy Futures online.

November 15
Alaska mothers changed the drinks they served their families because of Play Every Day’s educational messages

NOVEMBER 15, 2022 — A new article published this week shows that a long-running health communication campaign in Alaska is changing the drinks parents serve to their young children.

The Play Every Day campaign run through the Alaska Department of Health has been sharing messages statewide to encourage families to cut back on sugary drinks — the leading source of added sugar in most people’s daily diets. Serving healthy drinks like water can reduce the amount of added sugar kids consume and help prevent serious health problems like type 2 diabetes, unhealthy weight gain, and cavities that can develop in childhood, as well as heart disease later in life. 

The Play Every Day campaign shared several public service announcements (PSAs) with Alaska parents. These messages focused on the large amounts of sugar hiding in drinks, how to find that added sugar on labels, and ways to encourage choosing healthy drinks like water and plain milk.

“One out of 5 Alaska mothers of young children who had seen the Play Every Day campaign said they changed the drinks they served their family because of it,” said Katie Reilly, manager of Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Program. “That’s the ultimate goal of health communication campaigns like this — reaching Alaskans, improving their understanding of a health concern, and ultimately encouraging a positive change. Cutting back on serving sugary drinks during the early years of a child’s life can set them up for better drink choices, and better health, for years to come.” 

Campaign evaluation shows health messages reaching Alaska families, leading to changes

The Alaska Department of Health shared Play Every Day’s success in an article published this month in Health Promotion Practice. This is a peer-reviewed journal, which means the featured article is examined by other experts in the field to ensure it is of high scientific quality prior to publication. The article explains the campaign evaluation that showed Play Every Day was reaching parents and leading to positive changes among Alaska mothers of 3-year-old children. 

  • In the past 12 months, 34% of mothers had seen the Play Every Day campaign about sugary drinks.
  • Among mothers who had seen the campaign, 39% said the campaign gave them new information about drinks they served their children.
  • Among mothers who had seen the campaign, 21% said they changed drinks they served their 3-year-old because of the campaign.

Play Every Day has been running for 10 years to support Alaska children growing up at a healthy weight. That’s an important goal in a state where about 1 out of 3 children has overweight or obesity. Play Every Day’s messages focus on two behaviors that help Alaska children — and their parents — maintain a healthy weight: getting daily physical activity and reducing the sugary drinks they consume, choosing water or plain milk instead.

Almost 1 out of 3 (31%) Alaska 3-year-olds has a sugary drink every day, according to the ongoing Childhood Understanding Behaviors Survey (CUBS) of Alaska mothers of preschool-age children. In 2020, the Alaska Department of Health started a new Play Every Day evaluation by adding questions to this CUBS survey. The questions asked about campaign messages that were running statewide, focused on serving fewer sugary drinks to young children. The first year of this evaluation was published in the new Health Promotion Practice journal.

The Health Promotion Practice journal published an article in November 2022 about a Play Every Day campaign evaluation. The evaluation showed that Alaska mothers changed the drinks they served their families because of the campaign.

Play Every Day partners with tribal health consortium to reach Alaska Native families

Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign works with partners that include the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), a statewide nonprofit Tribal organization that provides health care services, wellness and prevention programs, training and rural water and sanitation systems construction for Alaska Native people. This partnership with ANTHC — a trusted community-serving organization — played an important role in ensuring messages resonated across Alaska and were delivered to an Alaska Native audience.

“Reducing sugary drink consumption in young children is one of the key objectives for our statewide Healthy Alaskans 2030 health improvement plan,” said Dana Diehl, Director of Wellness and Prevention for ANTHC. “Partnering with Play Every Day is a key strategy in that effort. These efforts support the vision of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium that ‘Alaska Native people are the healthiest people in the world.’” 

Many Alaskans consume sugary drinks daily, but improvements seen among young kids

Limiting or eliminating added sugar in foods and drinks is recommended for the best health. For adults and older children, the national dietary guidelines recommend limiting the amount of added sugar to less than 10 percent of total daily calories. Four leading health organizations published the Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids report stating sugary drinks aren’t recommended for children ages 5 and younger. In 2020, a new national dietary guideline said to avoid any added sugars in foods and drinks served to children younger than 2.

Sugary drinks include any drinks with added sugar: soda, sports and energy drinks, vitamin drinks, sweetened coffee and tea. Alaska parents have said that the most common sugary drinks they serve their little kids are sweetened fruit drinks, sweetened powdered mixes, and chocolate and other flavored milks.

Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program has been using many strategies, including the Play Every Day campaign, to encourage families to choose healthy drinks like water or plain milk instead of sugary drinks. The program helped child care providers implement national standards for nutrition, physical activity, and breastfeeding in child care centers and preschools. The program worked with ANTHC to support a new healthy food and drink policy on the ANTHC campus that limits the amount of sugary drinks available, prioritizes serving water, and encourages eating locally produced foods.

The published evaluation of Play Every Day showed Alaska parents are saying they’re changing drinks served to their young kids. Alaska’s health department is also seeing that supported through the ongoing statewide CUBS survey of Alaska mothers. The percentage of Alaska 3-year-olds who did not drink any sugary drinks during a day increased from 57% in 2008 to 69% in 2018

The Alaska Department of Health also published earlier success in running Play Every Day messages to reduce sugary drink consumption among older children. Between 2014 and 2016, the percentage of parents in Alaska’s largest communities who reported serving sugary drinks to their school-age children in the past week significantly decreased during a time when Play Every Day was continuously sharing its health-focused messages statewide.

Play Every Day messages help families pick healthier drinks

Families, pediatricians, dentists, teachers, child care providers and more can share Play Every Day messages in many ways:

September 12
Running Jamborees are back: Popular free fun runs return for Alaska elementary students
Thousands of Alaska elementary students will be running through the wooded trails during September's running events.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2022 — After a two-year break due to pandemic challenges, Anchorage Running Jamborees are back.

In September, thousands of Alaska elementary students will be running through the wooded trails during the annual Cross Country Running Jamborees and similar fun runs. The Anchorage School District (ASD) is organizing three Running Jamborees. The North Star Borough School District in Fairbanks is holding two more races for elementary school students before the month ends.

The free Jamborees in Anchorage have been a fall tradition for about three decades but were not held in fall 2020 when school was virtual or fall 2021, when there was a wave of increasing numbers of Covid-19 infections. This year, race organizers are ready to invite children back to the trails.

“The Anchorage School District’s physical education teachers are excited to welcome our young runners back to the Elementary Cross Country Running Jamborees!” said Melanie Sutton, the district’s health and physical education curriculum coordinator.  “The crunch of the leaves underfoot on the trail, the crisp autumn breeze on your face and the sheer joy of movement — does it get any better than that? We are looking forward to seeing the huge smiles as the runners cross the finish line to the cheers of their families.” 

Alaska school districts work with the Healthy Futures program, the Play Every Day campaign​, local athletes, and others to organize the fall running races in Anchorage and Fairbanks. All participants at the races will receive a Healthy Futures pin or medal when they reach the finish line, said Matias Saari, event coordinator for Healthy Futures.

While supporting these Jamborees, Saari’s program is also running the free Fall Healthy Futures Challenge in about 110 elementary schools across the state. Participating kids track their physical activity on simple logs and win prizes for staying active during September, October and November. Parents can find out if their child’s elementary school is signed up by visiting the Healthy Futures website.

Dates, times and locations for Anchorage Jamborees

The Anchorage School District Health and Physical Education (PE) Department is organizing several Jamborees in North Anchorage, South Anchorage and the Beach Lake area of Eagle River. Elementary students will run different distances, depending on their ages. The race course length ranges from about ½ mile to 1½ miles.

Race organizers request that runners bring their own water bottles to the event. Thirsty runners and their families will be able to drink water from multiple fountains and water bottle fill-up taps on a special “H2O 2GO” trailer from Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility (AWWU).

Below are the locations, dates and times for the upcoming Anchorage Cross Country Running Jamborees. For each race location, the first race for kindergarten students will start at 5:30 p.m. Races for additional grade levels will continue through 8 p.m. or until the last runner crosses the finish line.

  • South Anchorage Jamboree — Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022

The Jamboree will be held at the trails near Service High School.
Learn more: Contact David Hall, Chinook Elementary PE teacher, at

  • Beach Lake (Eagle River) Jamboree — Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022

The Jamboree will be held at the Chugiak High School trails. 
Learn more: Contact Caela Nielsen, Ravenwood Elementary PE teacher, at

  • North Anchorage Jamboree — Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022

The Jamboree will be held at the trails near Bartlett High School.
Learn more: Contact Benjamin Elbow, PE teacher at Rogers Park and North Star elementary schools, at

Elementary students can attend any of the Anchorage Jamborees, regardless of where they live or where their elementary schools are located. Parents are encouraged to pre-register their children for the Jamborees at their schools. All children must have a signed waiver before participating in the event. Ask your child’s PE teacher for more information about the Anchorage Jamboree in your area.

The Anchorage Jamborees will wrap up by the end of September, but Anchorage parents and children will have weekly opportunities to keep running or walking as a family through the end of October. The popular Tuesday Night Race series begins Sept. 13, 2022, at Kincaid Park. The series continues on different trail systems throughout Anchorage every Tuesday through Oct. 25, 2022.

Dates, times and locations for Fairbanks running events

Two elementary schools in the North Star Borough School District are hosting running races during the remainder of the month. Each race will be timed and ribbons will be given to top finishers, Saari said.

  • Salcha Elementary School — Thursday, Sept. 15, starting at 5:30 p.m.
  • Chena Lakes Recreation Area — Thursday, Sept. 22, starting at 5:30 p.m. This event is hosted by Watershed School.

Race organizers note that parking will be limited so students are encouraged to use either carpools or available buses to get to each race. For more information about Fairbanks events, contact Norm Davis at  

Photograph courtesy of Healthy Futures

August 23
Want to buy a healthier drink? The claims on the front label don't always match the facts on the back

AUGUST 23, 2022 — Want to improve your chances of going to the store and buying a healthy drink? Spend more time reading the back of the label than the front. 

When walking the aisles in a grocery store, all we can see is the front of packaging for foods and drinks. The front labels don’t always have the facts, and instead are likely to show images and words that imply the drink is healthier than it is:

  • The drink includes natural flavors.
  • It has 100% Vitamin C.
  • The front label shows pictures of fruits and vegetables that aren’t actually in the drink. 
Organic cranberry raspberry drink - 100% vitamin C
Look for images or words on front labels that may imply a drink is healthier than it is.

We shop with the best of intentions, but the front of labels can mislead us. Families buy certain drinks because they believe those drinks are healthy based on words or images they see on the labels. Many times, those drinks actually have high amounts of added sugar. Serving these drinks to kids, often every day, can lead to health problems during childhood and later.

In 2022, lead authors from the Harvard, Johns Hopkins and University of North Carolina Schools of Public Health published a study that showed most fruit drinks and flavored waters purchased by families with children ages 5 and younger included words or images on the front labels “that may lead consumers to believe the beverages are healthy and natural.”

It’s not a common practice for all of us to turn those drinks around (about 40% of Americans say they don’t look at the back label). Adding that step in the store, however, will reveal more about a food or drink. The Nutrition Facts label on the back of a drink gives the true list of ingredients and the amount of added sugar — which can be just as much for a fruit drink as a soda.

“Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign has been creating messages to help Alaska parents spot these misleading words and pictures on sugary drinks and then pick healthier drinks for their families, like water and plain milk,” said Katie Reilly, program manager of Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Program. “A survey of Alaska mothers shows that about 1 out of 3 preschoolers drinks some type of a sweetened beverage every day. Cutting back on added sugar helps kids prevent cavities and unhealthy weight gain during their early years and type 2 diabetes and heart disease as they grow up.”

Most fruit drink labels have claims that could be misleading

Alaska parents say sweetened fruits drinks are a common type of drink they serve their young children. That includes drinks sold as sweetened powdered mixes or liquids in boxes, bottles, cartons or jugs. The Play Every Day campaign has been creating and sharing messages about these fruit drinks to help parents better understand and spot them in stores, and then choose healthier drinks like water or plain milk instead.

Here’s what the earlier-mentioned 2022 study showed after the Schools of Public Health examined claims and images on the front labels of drinks bought by hundreds of households with children ages 5 and younger:

  • Most fruit drinks (73%) made claims about nutrients that could be misleading. One of the most common claims was that the drink contained some amount of Vitamin C.
  • Almost half of fruit drinks (44%) included images or text on the front label that appealed to children.
  • Almost half of fruit drinks (47%) included claims like “contains juice” or “made with whole fruit.”
  • Almost all fruit drinks (94%) showed a picture of a fruit or vegetable on the front label. Most of these drinks, however, did not have fruit or vegetable juice or juice concentrate as a first or second main ingredient.

“Strikingly, 40% of fruit drinks and 88% of flavored waters depicted a fruit/vegetable on the (front of the label) that was not included at all in the ingredient list as a juice or concentrate,” the study said.

Better health comes when you cut back on added sugar

Sugary drinks of all kinds are the leading source of added sugar for most people’s diets – regardless of their age. Limiting added sugar in drinks and foods can improve health, which is why many health organizations recommend cutting back on sugar. 

Pediatricians, pediatric dentists, and dietitians agree sugary drinks aren’t recommended for children ages 5 and younger. For the best health, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend children younger than 2 have foods and drinks without any added sugar. The healthiest drinks for children ages 1 and older are water, plain white milk or fortified unsweetened soy milk.

These national guidelines also recommend that older children and adults limit added sugar to a small amount — less than 10 percent of the total calories they consume every day. That means an adult consuming 2,000 calories a day should limit daily added sugar to 200 calories or 50 grams of sugar —which is the same as 12 ½ teaspoons of sugar.

“You can drink 12 1/2 teaspoons of sugar very quickly,” Reilly said. “Just one sugary drink, like a 20-ounce bottle of soda or a fruit drink, can have about 16 teaspoons of added sugar. That’s more sugar than is recommended in an entire day for most of us. Checking the backs of labels and looking for the amount of added sugar can help us choose drinks and foods with no or low amounts of sugar.”

Nutrition facts - look for added sugars under the total carbohydrates heading
Choose foods and drinks without added sweeteners. You’ll know that’s the case if the “Includes Added Sugars” line says 0 grams.
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.
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