In celebration of Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation’s five-year anniversary, we’re spotlighting a few of the partners who have joined forces with the Foundation in an effort to reduce childhood obesity rates. These partners have helped us achieve a 6.4 trillion reduction in calories from the marketplace, supported families in achieving energy balance, and reached nearly 15 million students with our Energy Balance 101 curriculum. Learn more about how National PTA has joined forces with the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation in the video and Q&A below with President Otha Thornton.
Tell us about yourself and National PTA.
I am president of National PTA, the oldest and largest child advocacy association in the country. National PTA comprises millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the health, well-being and educational success of all children. National PTA also supports the promotion of family and community involvement in schools. We are dedicated to being a powerful voice for children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education. Through advocacy, education and a wide variety of programs, National PTA engages and empowers families and communities to make a difference in the lives and futures of our nation’s children and make every child’s potential a reality.
How did you first get involved with the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation?
After joining in 2012 as an associate member, our relationship expanded in 2013 when the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation became the sole funder of National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles program and Energy Balance 101 grant. In 2014, the sponsorship expanded again to include three grants: Smart from the Start Community Outreach Grants to improve energy balance among children ages 3-5 and their families; Healthy Lifestyles Grants to help schools address energy balance needs and provide education to children and families; and finally, Smart from the Start Pre-K Grants to improve awareness of energy balance and provide education for children and families.
Why is this partnership so unique?
Through generous funding from the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, National PTA has really been able to bolster the type, quantity and quality of the healthy lifestyle programs that PTAs across the country are implementing. Before we expanded our partnership last year, there wasn’t any real depth to what PTAs were doing around Healthy Lifestyles, our obesity prevention initiative. With this funding, PTAs have been able to apply for three different grants that allow them to do so much more and really partner with their schools and communities to address their local needs.
What are some of your biggest accomplishments over the last five years?
From an advocacy and policy perspective, we have made incredible gains in the area of school nutrition. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010, making significant improvements to our nation’s school meal programs. There have certainly been some bumps along the way, but when you look at the nutritional quality of the meals that are now reaching our students, it is incredibly promising. Additionally, the rise of breakfast in the classroom has been a great accomplishment, as schools are finding innovative ways to increase the number of kids who access it each morning, helping all kids—not just those who qualify for free or reduced meals.
We also are incredibly proud of our advocacy efforts around local wellness policies. Local wellness policies have been around for nearly a decade, but many were stagnant because there was no additional framework for schools outside of establishing a local wellness policy. Some schools have done remarkable things with them, and that’s something we’re looking to replicate. Soon, all schools participating in the national school lunch and breakfast program will be improving the development, implementation and evaluation of local wellness policies and will include a more substantive role for families and community members. We see this as a real win in the partnerships between schools and communities and opening up a whole new era of healthy schools.
How do you see your association playing a role in the mission to reduce childhood obesity in the future?
Obesity prevention has been identified by PTA members as a priority for health and safety. As we all know, reversing the current childhood obesity trend is imperative to the future health and wellbeing of our children.
National PTA knows that we have an important role to play in the collective efforts to reverse the trend. For obesity prevention, some key problems exist both at home and at school that could benefit from a stronger family-school partnership around advocacy, mobilization and family education— a PTA-specific niche.
We are contributing by empowering families to partner with schools and advocate for healthy changes around nutrition and physical activity. Through established partnerships like the one with the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and leveraging their best practice resources, we’re giving families the tools they need to create an environment that supports the positive changes happening at school. Additionally, we’re providing local PTAs with diverse, dynamic, up-to-date tools and resources to use in partnering with schools and engaging families in identifying and addressing barriers to providing healthy learning and home environments.
From an advocacy perspective, we will continue to look at the data on a nationwide level and address needs through policy. We’re very hopeful that many of the changes that are being made to school meal programs along with afterschool and supper programs will help with the rates around childhood obesity. Parents also have a strong role in ensuring schools are offering adequate recess and physical education time. When kids aren’t in school, PTA needs to continue to bolster our efforts to make sure families and kids have resources to be active and healthy.