For Mary Hoshiko Haughey of the YMCA of the Silicon Valley in Santa Clara, CA, the push toward healthy eating and physical fitness has been underway for a very long time.
“We were working on this long before the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards were developed,” she says, “so once the YMCA-USA signed on to the standards, we were early adopters.”
Haughey is Senior Vice President for Operations for the local YMCA, and her pre-HEPA work brought the Y and its afterschool programs into partnerships at the federal, state and local levels. Working with a Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, they worked to combat diabetes in the Latino community. Two Carol M. White Physical Education Program grants helped equip afterschool programs and train staff in evidence-based curriculum. In addition, the Y was a demonstration site for the California Healthy Behaviors Initiative, a joint effort between the state Department of Public Health and the nonprofit Center for Collaborative Solutions. That effort paved the way for a partnership with the Santa Clara county health department in which the Y’s afterschool programs were a vehicle for an effort to increase youth physical activity and encourage healthy eating. The county produced a resource guidebook, Fit for Learning, aimed at fully integrating healthy eating and physical activity into school lesson-planning, and the Y produced a corollary for afterschool programs, Fit for Afterschool. Both guides have since been integrated into one resource.
When HEPA standards came along, the local Y of Silicon Valley was quick to embrace them, and the standards are now in place in all of its 108 afterschool and early learning sites as well as its summer learning and camping programs. In addition, the Ys employ the SPARK curriculum, a research-based physical education program, as well as several nutrition education curricula from various public health partners.
Each of the sites offers daily physical activity for children, providing opportunities for the moderate to vigorous exercise called for under HEPA. “We’ve also restricted screen time,” Haughey says. “Now if there’s a screen on, it’s because a child is doing homework or some activity specifically targeted at academic enrichment. They’re not watching a movie!”
“We’d made a lot of headway on healthy eating and physical activity before HEPA, but the standards still helped us in important ways,” Haughey says. “HEPA gave us a sense of commitment to a shared effective practice, and a common language to talk about it with our colleagues locally and across the nation. When I get together with colleagues from Tennessee, we can talk about the challenges and successes.”
The effort continues to face some important challenges, and Haughey says the Y has learned a lot along the way. “One thing that becomes clear when you really start working with communities living in poverty,” she says, “is that you can’t just tell people, ‘go eat healthy food and be active.’ There are food deserts that make it hard for people to find fruits and vegetables. And the built environment in their communities isn’t safe. So we’ve really dug into it with our community, challenging ourselves to think about how we make it doable for families living in poverty.”
One other aspect of HEPA that Haughey particularly appreciates is that it’s a vehicle for feedback and engagement with parents. “We let our parents know about HEPA,” she says, “and they help hold us accountable. We’re not perfect, and sometimes staff get a little ‘creative,’ and then I get phone calls from parents. I’m glad to hear from them, and it’s helped create a broader awareness among our parents and families. It’s good to be accountable to them.”