The Northern Virginia Healthy Kids Coalition's Campaign is a community-wide strategy for improving child health through healthy lifestyle promotion. The goal is to change child health behaviors by creating supportive environments where children live, learn, and play. Specifically, we aim to help more children practice the 9-5-2-1-0 for Health™ behaviors so that fewer children will develop unhealthy weight and related health problems.This will require the commitment of not only parents & caregivers, but hundreds of community organizations with the potential to influence child health behaviors.
1. Better Health through Energy Balance
Changing the behaviors that affect childhood overweight and obesity (nutrition, exercise, sleep, screen time) is an investment in lifelong health. To the extent children improve their energy balance by sleeping well, eating well, limiting screen time, exercising more, and reducing sugared beverages, sleeping well, the more likely they are to achieve an optimal weight and reduce their risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other lifestyle-related diseases. Even better, children who establish these healthy patterns at a young age are more likely to sustain those habits into the future. In this context, an investment in better health through energy balance could pay dividends for many decades to come in terms of suffering and expense avoided, and productivity and quality of life achieved.
2. Better Health for Every Child
It is important to note that the benefits of better health through energy balance are intended for everyone. The initiative is aimed at all children, not just those who happen to be overweight at this time of their life. The initiative must also be inclusive of children and families of all ages, sexes, cultural background, disability status, and health status. And, it is worth stating that this approach poses a challenge to the Coalition Members themselves. The people and organizations who support this Coalition are challenged to ‘practice what we preach’ when we promote better health through energy balance.
3. The Primary Influence of Parents & Caregivers
Parents & caregivers are obviously the first and most important influence on child health behaviors. The research shows that parents & caregivers are almost unanimous in recognizing that they themselves should play a major role in fighting childhood overweight and obesity. But they need help. The large majority of parents believe that health care providers, schools, marketers, food service organizations, child care centers, and state and local government should also play a role in fighting childhood overweight and obesity.
4. The Reinforcing Influence of Community
Research from the health fields shows that parents and community are a powerful combination for changing child behavior. One theory of behavior change, the ‘social ecological model’, posits that people (including children) are more likely to change their behaviors when they encounter positive messages and supports for behavior change in their surrounding community – their family, their social network, their neighborhood institutions, and the media. The Coalition has chosen this 'social-ecological model of change' as the most promising model for promoting better health through energy balance for our children in their own local communities.
5. The Community Vision: 360 Degrees of Child Health Promotion
Based on the social-ecological model of behavior change, we envision a Northern Virginia community in which individuals, families and institutions from all jurisdictions and sectors collaborate to ensure that all children receive messages and practical supports for better health through energy balance for children in their home and in their community. In the ideal vision, children will be ‘surrounded on all sides’ by the messages and supports they need to eat healthy and be physically active. We call this vision ‘360 degrees of child health promotion.’
5. Regional Impact Targets
The Coalition aims to:
- Engage partners from every Northern Virginia jurisdiction.
- Engage partners from at least ten major sectors (including (but not limited to) the business sector, child care, city/county planning, faith communities, food services, health care, local government, media, parks and recreation, public health, public safety, schools, and parent organizations).
- Show demonstrable improvement in child and family awareness of better health through energy balance
- Show demonstrable improvement in child and family behaviors relating to better health through energy balance
- Halt and reverse the upward trend in childhood overweight and obesity
6. Regional Impact Strategies
The Coalition plans to implement three core strategies aimed at equipping children and parents with
the supports they need to adopt healthier habits for energy balance.
- Community Partnerships. The Coalition will ultimately engage hundreds of community partners in a shared effort to promote better health through energy balance where children live, learn, and play. Partnerships will be cultivated with organizations from all Northern Virginia jurisdictions and organizational sectors mentioned above. Community partners will be asked to deliver positive social marketing messages about better health through energy balance to the children and families they encounter every day. Community partners will also be asked to implement policy, program, and practice changes which support adoption of healthy behaviors by children and families.
- Social Marketing. Children and families can benefit from positive messages about the value of energy balance and its components (healthy eating, physical activity, proper sleep, reduced screen time).The Coalition aims to execute a carefully planned social marketing campaign aimed at delivering thesemessages to children and families where they live, learn, and play. The social marketing campaign could include electronic media, print media, billboards, posters, and additional messages and tools for children and families. Most importantly, the social marketing campaign would engage hundreds of Northern Virginia organizations – public, private, and nonprofit – in a shared effort to spread the message of better health through energy balance for children where children live, learn, and play.
- Policy, Program, and Practice Supports. Social marketing can deliver the message, but supportive policies, programs, and practices are needed to help children and families practice healthy habits in their daily lives. The Coalition will help public, private, and nonprofit organizations develop and implement institutional policies, programs, and practices which promote better health through energy balance in the community setting. The goal is to create a policy/program/practice environment in which children receive positive messages, healthy food choices, and healthy physical activity opportunities where they live, learn, and play (e.g. schools, neighborhoods, parks and recreation centers, physician offices and heath clinics, child care centers, faith communities, and more).
7. Community Capacity-Building Strategies
The Coalition will need to take positive, proactive steps to engage and equip community partners for promoting better health through energy balance for children. We will employ eight core strategies to build community capacity throughout the region:
- Raise Awareness. The Coalition will continually raise awareness of the importance of energy balance for children in Northern Virginia.
- Engage Partners. The Coalition will proactively engage people and organizations from all Northern Virginia jurisdictions and sectors as partners in promoting energy balance for children.
- Give Voice. The Coalition will seek and give voice to community concerns and ideas about promoting energy balance for children
- Mobilize Resources. The Coalition will collaborate with its partners to develop and mobilize community resources to support community action.
- Support Regional Strategies. The Coalition will collaborate with its partners to facilitate development of regional strategies for promoting energy balance for children.
- Support Collaboration. The Coalition will support collaborative efforts of community organizations wishing to work together to improve community policies, programs, and practices.
- Build Technical Capacity. The Coalition will build community capacity by operating a ‘community of practice’. Community of practice members will receive knowledge, data, tools, training, coaching, and networking support to advance their work in promoting energy balance for children.
- Evaluate Impact. The Coalition will evaluate and report on the impact of its actions in order to continually learn and deliver accountability to community partners.