From one corner of a city or county to another, life expectancy can vary by five, 10 or even 20 years, according to a report from the Center on Society and Health.
“What would it take to close those gaps across our community and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible?” asks Dr. Clyde Yancy, M.D., American Heart Association past president and chief of cardiology at Northwestern University in Chicago. “For many communities, it requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty and discrimination.”
Thirty million people in neighborhoods nationwide have little or no access to healthful food like fruits and vegetables, and almost two-thirds of teens living in the United States don’t get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. While progress is being made to help children grow up healthy, every state has communities with greater gaps and racial disparities.
To make sure all kids can lead a long and healthy life, a new campaign called Every Child Needs is shedding light on the types of resources schools and communities need to create healthy environments that help children succeed. As a result, more than 20 organizations dedicated to improving nutrition and increasing physical activity among children, have come together to build a foundation for a healthy future.
Experts involved have identified the following key elements that every child needs to grow up healthy.
A healthy start
• At hospitals and worksites, moms need support and guidance for breastfeeding to help ensure infants receive the best nutrition.
• At home and in centers for early care and education, children need age-appropriate play and space to roll, crawl, wobble and run.
• All kids require healthful drinks and food such as milk or water, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
A healthy school
• Nutritious school lunches and smart snacks, and a school free from marketing of junk foods and sugary drinks, are crucial.
• Children need time to be active at recess; physical education and bursts of energy through classroom movement activities.
A healthy community
• On the way to school, every child needs safe sidewalks and street crossings to bike or walk.
• After school, every child needs nutritious snacks, healthful beverages, and time to be active and play in afterschool programs.
• Throughout the neighborhood, every child needs safe places to go for a walk, play at a park and ride on a bike; and grocery and corner stores stocked with appealing nutritious foods and drinks.
Community leaders: to get free tools, guidance and support to improve health in your community visit voicesforhealthykids.org.
Parents and families: to participate in the conversation online about what children need in your community to grow up healthy, and to learn about joining a state or local coalition to be an advocate for change, visit voicesactioncenter.org.
“Every child needs and deserves the opportunity to grow up healthy,” says Yancy. “Fortunately, we have the tools to improve health across the lifespan by ensuring every child has nutritious foods to eat and safe places to be active.”