Swimming in Junk Food
All year I’ve been looking forward to enjoying lazy days at the swimming pool with my children, alternating between reading a good book in the shade and jumping in for some laps every hour or so. I love how swimming makes you feel like you have really worked every muscle in your body, and the kids always go to bed early after a trip to the pool. On long summer nights when getting them to sleep with sunshine still streaming through the window is a near impossibility, the swimming pool seems like the ultimate gift to parents.
But there is one huge drawback to all the fun and exercise that can be had at that pool and that, for me, is the snack bar. This nefarious area of the pool tempts and woos my children with large signs and logos for various candy, snack cakes, and ice cream products. When we joined this neighborhood pool last summer I was relieved that the snack bar only sold granola bars, popcorn, popsicles and sparkling water. That seemed like a perfectly reasonable assortment of products, offering both energy and relief from the heat.
I’m not sure what happened this year to make the concession stand take such large steps backwards when it comes to promoting our children’s health. Since I work for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization founded by the American Heart Association and Clinton Foundation to address children’s health, I am all too familiar with the startling statistics on childhood obesity. But I am also in the position where I see so much progress being made in schools, worksites, and out-of-school time settings when it comes to creating health-enhancing environments. Sometimes I forget how much work still needs to be done.
I have already shared my concerns about the pool’s new snacks with the neighborhood association but next I will share evidence that it doesn’t have to be done this way. I’m inspired by what I see happening in Lexington, Kentucky from the Better Bites Snack Strong Program which is working to overhaul snacks served at recreational venues and summer camps in that area. Watch this short video for all the inspiration you need to ask for change at your local pool!
When you have been properly filled with inspiration and are ready for next steps, here are some ideas for building support and advocating for healthy changes.
- Find friends. It is easier to ask for change when it is clear you are not the sole complainer. Talk to other parents at the pool, look for ones that are bringing healthier choices from home as well as those that would buy healthier options if made available.
- Engage Youth. See if you can find young people to work with you; the message is always more powerful coming from those most impacted and youth-adult partnerships can be meaningful learning experiences for both parties. Share the Alliance’s Youth Engagement Guide with pool management, summer camps, and any other groups that might use the pool and suggest a summer project that will result in leadership development and healthy outcomes.
- Share Successes. Collect examples of what other pools have done, or outline your vision of what changes you would like to see. If your thoughts are too vague it may be harder for others to see it.
- Offer to help. Change is often perceived as being too much work so if you offer to take some of it on yourself, such as researching new products, doing a survey, or working at the concession stand, there will be one less reason to have your ideas turned down.
For more guidance on creating healthier environments in schools, out-of-school time settings and homes, please visit www.HealthierGeneration.org.
Here’s to a safe and healthy summer!
This post first appeared on the National Education Association's Bag the Junk website.