Jul 5, 2022, 2:00 PM, Posted by
Charles Bruner, Martha Davis
We identified exemplary practices to help foster the nurturing, stable environments that children need from birth through adolescence to thrive.
The United States has the most advanced medical care system in the world and spends the most per capita on healthcare. Yet we lag behind other developed nations on important health indicators, including infant mortality, child wellbeing, adult disability, and overall life expectancy. The status quo is failing our kids, denying them a healthier and brighter future. More kids than ever face the prospect of growing up less healthy and living shorter lives than their parents. Children are more likely than any other age group to be poor and live in medically underserved and socially vulnerable communities. Unless we collectively take significant steps to improve our children’s health and development, we will face adverse consequences for years to come.
There is growing evidence on how to improve children’s wellbeing. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Integrated Care for Kids-InCK Marks Initiative spent the last six years bringing together pediatric practitioners, health administrators, policy experts, and advocates. InCK Marks’ advisors assessed pediatric healthcare practices and innovations, metrics, finances, and culture to identify tangible solutions that advance a culture of health for kids.
This work continually pointed us to—and eventually rooted us in—the value of early investments in preventive health and health promotion. While the return on investment may not be immediate, the dividends are lifelong, with ripple effects into all facets of life. The needed investments encompass more than just medical treatment; health systems must respond more proactively to the determinants that play a lasting role in children’s health, including economic (housing, food, and basic income) and social (relational supports and opportunities) factors.
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Apr 11, 2022, 12:45 PM, Posted by
Healthy School Meals for All offers students and schools the stability and support they need as they continue adapting to pandemic-driven change amidst ongoing challenges. Now is not the time to let this policy expire.
Families around the country, mine included, are feeling fortunate to have our kids back in school after a turbulent, unpredictable couple of years. Students, teachers, and school officials were forced to navigate unexpected changes. For most, the ongoing shifts from virtual to in-person learning were stressful and added to many other pandemic-induced hardships. Through it all, school districts quickly spearheaded innovative approaches to ensure they could continue to serve much-relied-upon school meals to students. They implemented “Grab and Go” models allowing parents to pick up meals in school parking lots or other community hubs; loading up school buses with meals and dropping them off at stops along neighborhood routes; and delivering meals directly to students’ homes.
Schools were able to offer this continuity and flexibility because when the Covid-19 pandemic forced nationwide school closures—and hunger and food insecurity spiked—Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act in 2020.
Provisions in these laws provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with authority and funding to implement waivers that permit schools nationwide to serve meals to all students free of charge (also known as universal school meals). The measures also allowed schools flexibility to help ensure that meals are provided safely during a public health emergency. That includes distributing meals to families outside of the school setting and temporarily serving meals that meet the less stringent nutrition standards of the Summer Food Service Program, which require fewer fruits and vegetables than USDA’s current nutrition standards for school lunch.
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Dec 7, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by
Last year, Mexico took a tremendous step toward prioritizing childrens’ health by banning junk foods and sugary drinks.
“Children have the right to be in environments that are health promoting and free of unhealthy foods and drinks.” —Ana Larrañaga works with Salud Crítica, a public health advocacy organization based in Mexico City
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the State of Childhood Obesity website.
Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, legislators in Mexico moved swiftly to ban the sale of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.
Oaxaca was the first state to approve junk food bans.
This started as a true grassroots movement, ignited by the strong community advocacy of 13 different Indigenous groups who were determined to protect people from diabetes and obesity—and prevent the displacement of traditional foods that are deeply rooted in their culture. They fought to prohibit distributors from delivering sugary drinks and junk food to their local stores.
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Jun 16, 2021, 9:45 AM, Posted by
Fathers play a critical role in the healthy development of children and families. This is why it's important to address structural and systemic barriers that prevent Black men from being fully present in their children's lives—so that all families have a chance to thrive.
My wife and I have been married since 2019, but we’ve known each other since we were 14-year-olds. We are raising a blended family. She has a daughter who is 9 and a 7-year-old son. I have a son who is 8, and together we have a 2-year-old son.
The pandemic has profoundly shaped my parenting experience in numerous ways. I had to transform my house into a combined virtual school, daycare, and work setting. The last year has negatively impacted our seven year old, who is autistic, mostly due to disruptions to the in-person support that he needs to truly thrive. Navigating these evolving dynamics, while working, running a household, and trying to stay sane has been extremely challenging. But being present in my children’s lives makes every moment worth it.
My father left when I was 3 years old. Because he wasn’t in the picture for my upbringing, in some ways, I am trying to reach an ideal as a father that I couldn’t actually see as a child. Something inside pushed me to be different, to counter the “absent Black father" narrative.
When I was younger, my perception of a father’s role was very different than it is now. I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, where norms for a Black child, a Black young adult, and a Black man could be stifling. The limits were very clear on what society deemed appropriate for a Black man, and how you were supposed to interact with others. I was never comfortable with those unwritten rules.
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May 7, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by
As unemployment and food insecurity rates soared, WIC adapted to protect access for the families it serves—but more support is needed.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bo-Yee Poon and her children left China, where she had been studying Tai Chi for 16 years, to return home to Vermont. What she thought would be a short stay before returning to her studies turned into a much longer one as all flights back to China were grounded indefinitely. With a home but no immediate job prospects in Vermont, Bo-Yee managed to access insurance through Vermont Health Connect, which fortunately made her and her family eligible for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
WIC is a federal program that provides critical nutrition assistance to lower-income women, infants, and young children. In 2019, more than 6 million people participated in WIC each month, including roughly half of all infants born in the United States.
WIC turned out to be just what Bo-Yee and her children needed. It provided access to healthy groceries and tips on how to feed her children vegetables and fruit. But more importantly, it helped alleviate her stress and anxiety around providing nutritious food for her family. She knew that even though she couldn’t work or afford childcare, her family would be taken care of. Today, WIC has helped millions of families like Bo-Yee’s eat healthy food on a lower budget, providing a sense of relief during particularly difficult times.
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Mar 16, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by
School meals are a lifeline to tens of millions of families across the country. Learn about new research showing why healthy meals are so important—and opportunities to help schools ensure more families have access to the healthy foods they need.
On a typical day before the pandemic, school food service workers across America did far more than serve lunch to the nearly 30 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, and the nearly 15 million participating in the School Breakfast Program. Many also served afterschool snacks and even dinners for students to take home to their families. These school meals are a lifeline for tens of millions of kids and families who are furthest from economic opportunity.
All of this changed in March 2020 when schools across the country began closing in droves in response to COVID-19. Students in Houston were getting ready for Spring Break just as lockdowns began. This timing meant that instead of being stocked to serve students for the week, refrigerators across the Houston Independent School District (HISD) were empty.
Upon facing the reality that millions of families across Houston would need food, Betti Wiggins, the nutrition services officer for the HISD, sprang into action.
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Nov 16, 2020, 10:45 AM, Posted by
Jeanette Betancourt, Katie Wehr
Navigating the holidays amid a pandemic is stressful. Sesame Street in Communities is offering support to help families cope with both common and new challenges.
Both of us, like many in America, are feeling anxious and unsure about what the upcoming holidays will look like for families. It’s difficult to know how to prepare or talk about this, and really all that is going on, with the young children in our lives.
Throughout this year our kids have continuously faced several changes. Suddenly their routines and schedules are different. Many are not seeing friends, family, teachers, and classmates in person as often or at all. They miss what felt normal and comfortable and they have all sorts of questions about what is happening and why. They struggle with what to do with all the “big feelings” they are experiencing.
They can also sense increased stress that the adults in their lives are facing. Adults are juggling care for their children, often adding homeschool teacher or “videochat technical support wizard” to already increased workloads. Those who are teachers, work in health care, or have other “essential” positions face significant danger and stress in their jobs every day. Others have lost jobs or are trying to protect or care for aging parents during a pandemic. Through all of this uncertainty and loss, parents and caregivers need ways to care for themselves, and children need to know they are going to be safe.
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Oct 8, 2020, 10:30 AM, Posted by
Krista Scott, Tina Kauh
Dependable child care is critical for healthy development—and for the nation to return to work. However, costs are often unaffordable even while many child-care workers are not making a living wage. Ultimately, the entire nation faces the consequences of a system in crisis.
While working from home and caring for our families as we wait out the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t always been easy, it certainly is a privilege that we value during these unprecedented times. We’re fortunate that our organization recognizes the importance of families and caregiving. In addition, the nature of our jobs allows us to work remotely and have flexible schedules. This helps us support our families during a global pandemic. Unfortunately, the vast majority of working parents in America today, especially women of color, don’t have this choice.
Instead, as pressure mounts to reopen the country, many working parents face an impossible dilemma. Those without the option to telecommute are forced to return to work while struggling to find safe and affordable child care. Or they must stay at home to care for their children and face financial ruin. This burden falls disproportionately on women of color who are on the frontlines of many essential jobs. Many are also child-care providers who face the monumental feat of juggling their low wage, high risk jobs with caring for their families and themselves in the midst of a pandemic. Ultimately, the entire country faces the consequences of an inequitable childhood care system in deep crisis.
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Jul 9, 2020, 9:45 AM, Posted by
As school officials face tough decisions about the 2020–2021 school year, the last thing they should be worrying about is determining who qualifies for free or reduced-price school lunches.
For tens of millions of children in the United States, school isn’t just a place to learn, but a place where they can depend on receiving healthy meals. In March 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 31 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and more than 17 million participated in the School Breakfast Program (SBP); the vast majority of children receiving these school meals are from families with low incomes.
So when COVID-19 swept across the nation this spring and forced at least 124,000 schools in the United States serving 55 million students to close, a public health crisis quickly became an education crisis and a nutrition crisis.
School districts responded quickly, creatively, and heroically, implementing “Grab and Go” models allowing parents to pick up meals in school parking lots or other community hubs; loading up school buses with meals and dropping them off at stops along neighborhood routes; and delivering meals directly to students’ homes. USDA did its part by issuing a series of waivers granting more flexibility in how meals could be prepared, packaged, and served. Particularly for students living in poverty and areas where healthy foods are typically scarce, the heroism of school officials and volunteers was a lifeline.
Today, there are more questions than answers about the 2020–2021 school year, which may be unlike we’ve ever experienced. But the last thing school officials should be worrying about upon reopening is how to process meal applications and figuring out who qualifies for free or reduced-price categories; their mission of educating and feeding students as safely as possible should be their primary concern.
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Apr 3, 2020, 8:00 AM, Posted by
Emergency relief would shore up programs, but longer-term proposals would still reduce access to food stamps, make school meals less healthy.
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in thousands of deaths in the United States and has upended daily life for millions of people across the country. Part of the emergency response at all levels of government has been to ensure that children and families continue to have access to healthy affordable foods.
The largest nutrition assistance program in the United States is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—sometimes known as food stamps—with the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs also among the largest. These programs have become even more critical during the current pandemic, but pending changes to those programs would fundamentally change how they are run and who has access to them.
I spoke with Giridhar Mallya, senior policy officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), to better understand how recent coronavirus relief legislation impacts SNAP and school meals, as well as some of the longer-term proposals in both areas.
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