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NY Times: Y.M.C.A. Adopting Health Policies for Youth

Mon December 5, 2011

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Michelle Obama, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a Y.M.C.A. event last year, has worked with the Y to develop health standards for its youth programs.

 

 

WASHINGTON — The Y.M.C.A., one of the nation’s largest child-care providers, intends to announce Wednesday that it is adopting new “healthy living standards,” including offering fruits, vegetables and water at snack time, increasing the amount of exercise and limiting video games and television for youngsters in its programs.

  • The guidelines grow out of discussions the Y has been having with Michelle Obama, the first lady, and the Partnership for a Healthier America, a year-old nonprofit group dedicated to supporting Mrs. Obama’s campaign to reduce childhood obesity. The first lady will join Y officials for the announcement.

Roughly 700,000 youngsters are enrolled in early childhood, after-school and summer programs at 10,000 Y chapters around the country, and the organization has a broad reach into the lives of American families. Independent experts and White House officials say they hope the Y’s move will serve as a model for other day-care providers.

“The difference between kids getting a sugary beverage and an unhealthy snack versus water and an apple can change a kid’s life, if that’s what they are eating day in and day out after school,” said Sam Kass, Mrs. Obama’s top food policy adviser. “The Y sets a standard.”

The standards, however, will be voluntary; Neil Nicoll, president and chief executive of the Y.M.C.A. of the U.S.A., said the national organization could not impose them on chapters. But Mr. Nicoll said that they had been developed in consultation with Y leaders around the country, and that he expected 85 percent of chapters to comply.

“We don’t anticipate a lot of pushback,” he said. “We find that once kids get into healthy habits of eating carrots instead of cookies and being physically active instead of sitting in front of the screen, they go with the flow pretty easily.”

Specifically, the Y is urging its chapters to serve fruits and vegetables at each meal, and to offer water instead of juice. For young children, the guidelines call for 15 minutes of exercise per hour, no more than 60 minutes per day of screen time for 2- to 5-year-olds, and no screen time for children under 2. Older children would have 60 minutes a day of physical activity, and no access to television or movies. Digital devices would be used only for homework or programs that promote physical activity.

Mr. Nicoll estimates the changes will cost 50 cents per child per day; he said the Y was working with food vendors to help chapters buy discounted fruits and vegetables. It has also pledged an independent evaluation of the program’s effectiveness.

“The early childhood and youth development fields need more evidence of what works to prevent and treat obesity in children and adults,” said Carol Emig, president of Child Trends, a research organization not affiliated with the Y. “Hopefully, the Y experience will produce such evidence.”

The Y is the latest in a string of companies and organizations, including Wal-Mart and Walgreens, to sign onto Mrs. Obama’s initiative. This year, Bright Horizons, a company that provides day care to about 70,000 children, agreed to standards similar to those adopted by the Y.

The Partnership for a Healthier America, financed by philanthropies like the Kaiser Permanente and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations, was founded to work with the private sector, and to ensure that Mrs. Obama’s initiative continues beyond her White House tenure. The Y will unveil its program at the partnership’s first conference; Mrs. Obama will be the keynote speaker.

“One in three kids are overweight or obese,” said Lawrence A. Soler, the partnership’s chief executive. “We are not going to be able to solve this problem in one or two presidential administrations.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 30, 2011

 

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the source of funding for the Partnership for a Healthier America. It was financed in part by the Kaiser Permanente Foundation, not Kaiser Permanente.