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 https://plaay.org/plaay-day/.
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, 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, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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 email@example.com.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
Photograph courtesy of Healthy Futures
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.
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.”
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, 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.
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.
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, 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 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 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
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
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.