High-quality after school programs do more than provide supervised care for students after the school day ends. They’ve evolved to also support whole-child development, including teaching students healthy behaviors that will carry on into adulthood. That’s why the National After School Association (NAA) adopted the standards for healthy eating and physical activity (HEPA) for out-of-school time (OST) providers. Updated this year to HEPA 2.0, the standards provide practical, comprehensive guidelines for quality programs to promote healthy behaviors.
High-quality after school programs do more than provide supervised care for students after the school day ends. They’ve evolved to also support whole-child development, including teaching students healthy behaviors that will carry on into adulthood. That’s why the National After-School Association (NAA) adopted the standards for healthy eating and physical activity (HEPA) for out-of-school time (OST) providers. Updated this year to HEPA 2.0, the standards provide practical, comprehensive guidelines for quality programs to promote healthy behaviors.
Why Providers Should Promote Healthy Behaviors in After School
As noted in the HEPA 2.0 report, healthy, active children learn better, perform better academically and experience fewer behavioral problems. But unfortunately, many children do not get the healthy food and physical activity they need each day.
According to the CDC, children and youth ages 6-17 should have 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day, yet only 21% of them meet that requirement at least five days a week. And in terms of healthy eating, 6.5 million children lived in food-insecure households in 2017, meaning they lacked access to safe, nutritional food due to limited money and other resources.
Quality after school programs have a unique opportunity to bridge the gap and engage all students in physical activity and healthy eating. Many children spend up to 15 hours per week in after school programs, allowing providers ample time to create activities that teach healthy behaviors. In fact, parents expect it. According to the “Kids on the Move” report, 71% of parents surveyed agreed that after school programs should provide healthy beverages, snacks and/or meals, while 8 in 10 agreed that programs should help children be physically active.
By adopting the NAA HEPA Standards, program providers can meet parents’ expectations and, more importantly, play a major role in helping students grow up healthy.
How to Use the HEPA Standards in After School Programs
The HEPA Standards is a research-based framework that provides the steps you need to take to create a healthy after school program. And while the standards won’t apply to all programs, program leaders and providers can use them as a guide to help students to make healthy choices.
- Set clear, individualized, achievable goals. For example, you may want to provide at least 15 minutes of physical activity each day. That may include schedule changes, new equipment and/or staff training. No matter the goals, create a plan of action and identify the resources you need to meet program needs.
- Connect to community resources. Use federal nutrition programs, like the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the At-Risk After-School Meals Program, to increase access to nutritious meals and snacks. You can also use existing school and community facilities and equipment to save money on physical activity.
- Support program staff. Ensure your staff is comfortable, as well as properly trained to engage in nutrition education and developmentally appropriate physical activity with students.
- Involve families. Parents can serve as both allies and advocates. They can help reinforce healthy habits by providing nutritious meals and opportunities for physical activity at home. And as advocates, they can use their voice and efforts to ensure all students have access to healthy food and physical activity in after school.
- Integrate physical activity and nutrition into program activities and approaches. Connect nutrition education and physical activity to other programming, like STEM, homework and creative arts.
- Plan your celebration. As you execute your action plan throughout the year, keep staff and parents updated on the progress, and celebrate the milestones.
Creating a Healthy After School Program is an Ongoing Process
Continuous evaluation and improvement is needed to effectively meet the HEPA Standards and create a healthy program, and this self-assessment tool can help. The HEPA Standards 2.0 Assessment Tool is designed for providers to assess their areas of strengths and improvement and create a plan for making necessary adjustments. Review the standards, create an action plan and use the assessment tool to help improve the health and wellness of the students in your program.