Partnerships are the Solution for Improving Children’s Fitness and Health
Written by Dr. Jeremy Lyon, president of Cooper Youth, The Cooper Institute
When it comes to our efforts to improve health outcomes in children, we live in a profoundly complex world. A world of contradictory and endless messages about body image, what to eat, how to eat, and the daily role of activity. A world of deliberate misinformation and marketing that nudges children towards the default of unhealthy living. A world of family and cultural values that are interwoven into attitudes about diet and exercise.
Too often, we work hard to help our children take one step forward towards living a balanced, healthy and fit life, only to have those efforts consumed by a world that tantalizes them with Frankenfoods, sugary drinks, and dazzling technology promoting endless screen time. But even in the face of this complexity, there is a legitimate reason for optimism. Even though the statistics and trends related to children’s health and fitness continue to reveal a national profile of too much obesity and too little physical activity, there are signs that our efforts are beginning to make a difference. Through great advocacy and education efforts, we are starting to see a common purpose and commitment emerge across organizational lines of schools, nonprofits, healthcare, government, and the corporate sector, to improve children’s fitness and health. We are seeing a level of motivation by true decision-makers in all of these sectors to open up their organizations’ unique resources to implement programs and strategies to improve the health of our children. The key lesson that has emerged in the last decade is that when we combine the unique talents, resources, and skills of two or more dissimilar organizations working towards a common outcome to improve children’s health, great things begin to happen.
We are living in a day of new and powerful collaborations. There is a cross-organization consistency of purpose, education, and commitment emerging related to understanding that to achieve any of our “future-ready” societal goals, this requires a generation growing up strong and healthy. Like any big problem, we now see more clearly that a single institution or organization’s efforts, or a limited set of policies or laws, are not going to present a singular solution. Despite the notion that public schools can fix anything and everything as simply mandated by the whims of state legislation, we are delusional to believe that efforts and programs within schools can do it alone. We know this now better than ever. Children cannot be subjected to an endless stream of confusing contradictions regarding how to live a healthy life. We must have a consistent message and consistent measures to teach and to model. We are closer to that today than we were even five years ago.
Every child you will ever talk to wants to be healthy and fit. If we continue to create a culture of strong partnerships built on promoting an understanding what a balanced and healthy life looks like in regards to diet, exercise, sleep, and work, it will be openly embraced by this next generation. It is being embraced as we speak. Unlike having to convince students of the value of algebra in their lives, we have schools full of students that want to be healthy, from day one. Our effort to create that kind of world is starting to make a difference. As a superintendent, I always envisioned creating a learning environment for children that resulted in them becoming healthier every school day. The path to achieving this outcome was to break down the silos within campuses that work against healthy living. Movement and exercise don’t just belong in PE. Food and drink are not exclusively to be consumed in the cafeteria during a standard hour. Much like a key tenet of school improvement that declares that every adult on a campus is responsible for the learning outcomes of every child, a healthy school culture recognizes that promoting fitness and health is, similarly, a school-wide responsibility and practice. This very idea, that we ALL have responsibility for our children’s fitness and health, is the catalyst for partnership efforts extending far beyond the walls of the school.
Finally, be optimistic in being part of a partnership movement that is recalibrating our societal values regarding the proper role of diet and exercise for children. Studies that now clearly reveal a positive connection between exercise and academic achievement, attendance, and behavior (the three holy grails of school improvement) have applications and implications far beyond the school house. We are armed with data. We recognize the magnitude of the problem. All over the country, we have unique partnerships formed, often from unlikely partners, all committed to improving children’s health, with each effort demonstrating that the pathway forward is through forming dynamic partnerships with a common commitment.
Don’t miss Dr. Lyon’s session at the Healthier Texas Summit this November!
Dr. Jeremy Lyon retired from public education after 31 years of service in 2017 to join The Cooper Institute’s Youth Division. During his career, Dr. Lyon has served as a teacher, coach, principal, and for 14 years as a superintendent. He retired as superintendent of Frisco ISD, one of the highest performing, fastest growing school districts in the nation with over 56,000 students. During his tenure in Frisco, he was part of the private-public leadership team that brought the Dallas Cowboys corporate headquarters and indoor stadium to Frisco. The partnership provides unparalleled academic, fine arts, and athletic opportunities for Frisco students.