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Empowering Kids to Eat Healthier & Be More Active

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It’s no secret that America is battling an obesity epidemic that threatens the very future of children and youth across America. The childhood obesity rate is at its highest ever, causing serious health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, health problems previously not common to children. In California, nearly two out of five children are overweight or obese. Among low-income families, this figure rises to more than half.

The California Department of Public Health’s Network for a Healthy California (Network) has long been on the forefront of this obesity battle, providing nutrition and physical activity education in non-traditional settings to improve the health of California’s most vulnerable populations.

Extensive research has shown that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and getting at least one hour of physical activity every day can help children maintain good health, a healthy weight, and lower their risk for serious health problems. And healthy kids also translates into students who are ready to learn and achieve more in the classroom.

Recognizing this and the fact that kids spend up to half their waking hours at school, we partnered with the Network to develop an innovative school resource kit that would help kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and be more active. After identifying a successful model being implemented in local school districts, we went to work to scale, standardize and make it replicable to all schools in California, but particularly for low-resource schools. In 2005, Harvest of the Month was launched statewide on www.harvestofthemonth.com.

Harvest of the Month features ready-to-go tools and resources to support healthy lifestyle habits like eating fruits and vegetables and being active every day. Covering 35 different fruits and vegetables, the primary tools include monthly newsletters (in multiple languages) designed for the classroom, cafeteria, home and community. Many of these tools link to the common core standards of education for easy integration into school lessons. Using knowledge- and skill-based strategies, Harvest of the Month provides hands-on learning opportunities and activities to engage kids in diverse settings where nutrition education can have the biggest impact – where they live, learn and play.

Since the launch in 2005, we’ve continued to collaborate with the Network to enhance and develop more Harvest of the Month resources, share best practices with partners, and reach more students and their families. Today, all Harvest of the Month components are based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the new ChooseMyPlate lessons.

Every year, the Network reaches over two million students and families through Harvest of the Month, and because of its success the program has been adopted by more than two dozen other states. The award-winning posters to promote healthy behaviors empower and inspire kids every day in schools, after-school programs, and throughout the community. Harvest of the Month has also received state and national recognition, including the Healthy U.S. School Challenges Gold and Silver Awards, Let’s Move! Child Care award, and the School Wellness Recognition Program sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

Credit: Runyon Saltzman & Einhorn