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July 12
Get out and play at the first Teddy Bear Picnic

teddy bear picnic - Kids checking out the new playground.jpgThe state’s 6th annual Ted Stevens Day is coming up on July 23, 2016, and there are lots of fun activities planned around the state to help Alaskans get out and play. One of these family-friendly events in Anchorage is focusing on including children and adults who experience disabilities in playground fun.

The Ted Stevens Foundation is partnering with Parks for All, the Anchorage Park Foundation, ARC of Anchorage, Special Olympics Alaska, Healthy Futures, and other local groups to host the first "Teddy Bear Picnic" at Cuddy Family Midtown Park in Anchorage. Cuddy Park was Anchorage’s first inclusive playground, accessible to people who use wheelchairs and other assistive mobility devices.
The event organizers are encouraging families to bring their children — and their teddy bears — to the park between noon and 4 p.m. to enjoy a picnic, music, a parade and playtime. 
“The activities are geared toward including all kids and families in the fun,” said Beth Nordlund, executive director of the Anchorage Park Foundation, one of the partners in the Teddy Bear Picnic event. “We hope kids enjoy a bit of pretend creative time, play on the playground, and have fun with the other kids. We hope the adults take advantage of this great community gathering for family fun while they learn about the importance of inclusive play. No child should have to sit on the side of a park — inclusive play is for all of us!” 
Matias Saari, event support coordinator for Healthy Futures, says the organization is excited to be involved in the Ted Stevens Day event.
“The activities will be both fun and healthy, and we anticipate the event as a whole will build awareness of the Inclusive Play Movement and importance of wholesome outdoor opportunities for all kids,” he said. 
Ted Stevens Day Teddy Bear Picnic
Cuddy Family Midtown Park, Anchorage
12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
June 27
Want to cook more healthy meals? Watch and learn — with your kids!

OvernightOatmealWithColton_3.PNGA new series of online cooking videos produced in Alaska show how kids can take charge in the kitchen and prepare meals with healthy fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The series was filmed through the Children’s Healthy Living Program and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Cooperative Extension Service.

“Our goal was to show parents that preparing healthy meals with fruits, vegetables and legumes is easy,” said Andrea Bersamin, an associate professor at UAF who works with the Center for Alaska Native Health Research and the Children’s Healthy Living Program. This program is a funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve child health in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Palau, Micronesia, and the Northern Mariana and Marshall islands.

Each short video features a child helping to prepare and cook foods that are readily available in most parts of Alaska, like beans, kale, oatmeal, and vegetable fried rice. You can watch the videos at

“The idea is that kids can get involved in cooking even at a young age, and it makes them more likely to want to taste the food if they help make it,” said Bersamin. “The overnight oats video shows just the child making the whole thing, no adults.  These recipes are easy and fun to make.”

The videos were filmed in the UAF Cooperative Extension kitchen in Fairbanks and feature Alaska families. Bersamin said the group has plans to make additional cooking demonstration videos using traditional Alaska Native and subsistence foods.

June 14
Alaska coaches say no to sports drinks

Drink Water Poster ANTHC.jpgSummer sports are kicking up – soccer, mountain biking, and softball. But just because you play sports doesn’t mean you need sports drinks. A number of coaches and other sports professionals are advising their athletes to make better choices when they hydrate their bodies.

Matt Thomas is one of these coaches.

“(Sports and energy) drinks are short-burst stimulants, and can have a lot of sugar, and they are not the right type of thing to be putting into your body routinely,” said Thomas, the head coach for the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves men’s hockey team. “We discourage our players from drinking them and we educate them on the proper, healthier ways to hydrate and create the needed focus and energy. We understand that there isn’t a very good correlation to performance from using sports or energy drinks.”

Thomas says he encourages his players to consume healthy meals when training or preparing for a game, and to choose drinks like water or milk.

“We know that water is always a good choice,” he said.

Thomas said his hockey players, like many college students, don’t always make the best food and drink choices, but part of their pre-season training is meeting with a sports nutritionist.

“We give the kids an opportunity to get good information on how to fuel your body the proper way,” he said. “These guys are grown men who can make their own decisions, but they are interested in what they should consume to make their bodies work best, and they understand there are other things you can do for your body that are better than sports drinks.”

Rikki Keen is a sports nutritionist who has worked with the UAA Men’s Hockey team many times. She discourages sports and energy drinks for athletes of all ages, but especially for children under 18.

“Kids are growing rapidly, and of all the times of their lives, this is not the time to be consuming those poor-nutrient-based drinks,” she said.

Keen worries about the way these beverages are marketed, to make it seem like they are what your body requires during or after exercising. The drinks come in pretty colors and flavors, she said. Their labels often say they contain electrolytes, like sodium or potassium, that your body loses when you sweat during physical activity. But Keen says you can get more sodium and potassium in a cup of milk than from a sports drink.  

“Calories are not created equal,” Keen said. “You need to ask yourself: Is it necessary to have a sports drink when you can get the same things from a banana and water?”


June 07
Summer running fun is on the way

2015 Mayor's Marathon Expo_37.JPG​Looking for ways to keep your kids active when school is out? These kid- and family-friendly runs are coming up:

Healthy Futures Kids Mile
Thursday, June 16
UAA campus
7:00 p.m.
The Healthy Futures Kids Mile is part of the Anchorage Mayor's Marathon & Half Marathon presented by ConocoPhillips and takes place while adults are registering for their marathon bibs. The route begins in front of the Alaska Airlines Center and winds around the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.
The event includes refreshments and prizes. Scott Janssen, the “Mushin’ Mortician,” will lead the kids out behind a team of huskies. Local “Healthy Heroes” will run with the kids and hand out Healthy Futures medals.
The run is free, but kids must be registered in advance to receive a bib and prizes.
Children’s Hospital at Providence Kids’ 2K
Saturday, Aug. 20
Delaney park Strip, Anchorage
Healthy Heroes Warmup: 9:30 a.m./Run: 10:00 a.m.

The event organizers call the Kids' 2K (about 1.2 miles) a no-pressure, fun run on the Delaney Parkstrip between E and I Streets (one block south of the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center). The start area is on 9th Avenue at its intersection with G Street. The finish is on the Park Strip grass (near F Street). The pre-race warm-up will be led by Anchorage's Healthy Hero athletes, who will also guide the runners around the course.
The run is free and all registered participants will receive a hat and a finisher’s medal.
Little A Triathlon
Saturday, June 25
Matanuska Lakes State Recreation Area, Palmer (formerly known as Kepler-Bradley lakes)
10:00 a.m.
Individuals: $100, Teams: $150

Come take part in an event focused on two goals: serving as a memorial for Avery Lindholm, a 2-year-old Alaska child who died from brain cancer, and raising funds for Alaska families with children who have cancer. Entry fees will be donated to the family of an Eagle River child who recently died from cancer. 
The course includes an 800-meter swim in Matanuska Lake (a wetsuit is strongly recommended), 12 miles of off-road biking, and a 4-mile trail run. 
Team or individual registration includes a T-shirt, a finisher’s medal, entry into a raffle for prizes, and more.
June 06
Alaska's Ninja Warrior

ninja.jpgThe sun looks bright at 5 a.m. in Unalakleet in May, but it provides little warmth against the chill on this clear morning. Nick Iligutchiak Hanson heats up a different way – by navigating an obstacle course that tests his agility, speed, power and endurance as he leaps and reaches over and up stumps, logs and walls.

On this day in May, he was doing the course for a  Play Every Day PSA to promote the importance of daily physical activity. Play Every Day has partnered with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to show how people in communities across Alaska are helping families get more active for the best health.

Most days, Hanson hits his homemade course on Unalakleet's beach to prepare for American Ninja Warrior, an obstacle course competition show that airs on NBC. Last year he almost made it to the city finals. This year, he was the first to successfully complete the course in the first round.

After nailing the warped wall, hitting the buzzer, and howling triumphantly, Hanson told the show’s sideline interviewer, “I’m just so glad I have had so much support from my family and my community.”

The feeling goes both ways. The kids he coaches prodded him to try out for Ninja Warrior in the first place, he said, and they continue to play with the 28-year-old Ninja all year. 

Hanson coaches basketball, volleyball and Native Youth Olympic games during the school year, and leads a running club all summer. He mentors other Alaska athletes vying for a spot on Ninja Warrior as well.
For Hanson, staying active means staying connected with his body, his community and his culture. As a teacher’s aide, coach, mentor and motivational speaker, Hanson wants to help kids do their best and guide them toward healthy option, he said. He wants to be someone they can turn to when they need a hand or need someone to listen.
And if some of these kids start a game of hide-and-seek using the whole village as a playground, Hanson is definitely playing.
Though now in the national spotlight as the American Ninja Warrior from the small Alaska community, Hanson has already made a name for himself as an athlete, coach and community leader. In March, he won gold in the Open Men’s Two-Foot High Kick during the Arctic Winter Games in Nuuk, Greenland, and he has won over 30 medals in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics and Arctic Winter Games since 2013.
In the past few years, he has received several notable recognition awards, including the 2015 Native Youth Olympics Healthy Coach award and the 2015 Bering Straits Native Corporation Young Providers award. Just month ago, he received a 2016 Alaska First Lady’s Volunteer of the Year Award for his dedication to youth and his community (view his video about receiving the award in Juneau here).
Now, as Alaska’s Ninja Warrior, Hanson heads to the show’s regional finals and is that much closer to the show’s Las Vegas finale and $1 million Ninja Warrior prize. That hardly seems to matter on this clear spring night in May.
As sunlight clings to the horizon, Hanson keeps moving from corner to alley, beach to river bank, in a hide-and-seek game that plays on into the evening sun.
Find out more about the obstacle course Hanson and friends built and the work he does on his You Tube channel, The Eskimo Ninja, and look for him and the community of Unalakleet again in an upcoming Play Every Day PSA that will air statewide in August,
May 23
Healthy Futures Challenge, Summer Edition

summer log small.jpg​It used to be that the start of spring marked the end of the Healthy Futures Challenge for the year.

Not anymore.

For years, Healthy Futures has offered two, free physical activity challenges during the school year — one in the fall and one in the spring. In June, the Healthy Futures program is starting its first Summer Challenge with a few programs across the state ready to support Alaska kids being active throughout the summer.

“Our program is about building habits, and the summer has always been a large gap between our spring challenge and our fall challenge,” said Harlow Robinson, executive director of Healthy Futures and the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. The summer challenge provides support for daily physical activity when many children need it, he said.

Healthy Futures is partnering with Camp Fire Alaska, the Alaska Afterschool Network, and RurAL CAP to run the summer physical activity challenge in four rural communities that participate in Camp Fire’s Rural Camp program and through Camp Fire’s school-based summer camp program in Anchorage.

“Camp Fire Alaska strives to teach and encourage youth to make healthy life choices. Partnering with Healthy Futures seemed like a natural fit,” said Joanne Phillips-Nutter, director of development and marketing for Camp Fire Alaska. “The partnership provides Camp Fire with a tried-and-tested system to further encourage, incentivize, and promote the practice of lifelong fitness. We are excited to partner with Healthy Futures, and provide the opportunity to extend their programming to reach youth year-round!”

The school-year Healthy Futures Challenge and the Summer Challenge run in slightly different ways. To successfully complete the school-year challenge, children in grades K-6 fill out a physical activity log for an entire month. To complete the Summer Challenge, children need to fill out an activity log for a two-week period of time. During those two weeks, participating children need to be active for 60 minutes a day for at least 10 days, Robinson said.

This two-week Summer Challenge period matches the two-week length of the summer camps that Camp Fire runs in rural communities across the state. This summer, the Healthy Futures Challenge will be offered in Kaltag, Nulato, Ruby and Koyokuk.

There will be four, two-week Summer Challenge periods in June and July, Robinson said. Children who complete the Summer Challenge will receive a prize. If children complete three of the four Summer Challenge periods, they will be eligible for a $300 grand prize gift card to buy physical activity equipment.

Robinson calls this Summer Challenge a pilot, and Healthy Futures will be seeing how it works in rural and urban communities. Some of these communities have participated in the school-based challenge that is run every fall and spring in almost 200 schools. Others haven’t participated before.

“It’s an opportunity to get in the door in those communities,” Robinson said. “Hopefully they will continue on (with the challenge) in the fall.”

To learn more about the Summer Healthy Futures Challenge, contact Healthy Futures at

May 16
Circus camp provides joyful, memorable physical activity for North Slope children

A circus is coming to Barrow next week, and the community’s children will be the performers.Every summer in Barrow – the northernmost community in Alaska – circus artists fly in to provide a two-week camp for almost 100 Barrow children. Kids from 5 and up can attend every day at no cost to them.Barrow Circus photo.jpg

The camp has been running for the past eight summers in Barrow and for five years in the surrounding villages, said Sandy Solenberger, who has helped organize the yearly North Slope circus camps. Children can attend circus camp for free because it is fully funded by a federal diabetes grant and Ilisagvik College, and it receives in-kind support from the City of Barrow and the North Slope Borough School District, Solenberger said.

This year’s Barrow camp will run May 23 through June 3. During that time, the campers will get to learn unique physical activities – including walking on stilts and a tightwire, balancing on a board atop a rolling cylinder, hanging on a trapeze, and tumbling. These circus skills help Barrow children get closer to 60 minutes of physical activity each day – the national recommendation for good health.

“What we are trying to do is help kids develop the habit of physical activity,” Solenberger said. “We are looking for unusual activities that make joyful memories.”

Some of these activities seem novel, but they have a history in Alaska Native culture, Solenberger said. For some regions of Alaska, juggling is an Alaska Native skill that was done with rocks instead of balls. The Barrow circus camp staff are hoping to leave behind more juggling balls in North Slope villages to promote this physical activity after the camp concludes, Solenberger said.

The camp promotes health beyond increased activity. Solenberger said the only drink available to the kids during camp is water. At the beginning of camp, kids decorate their own water bottles so they can drink water throughout the day. Camp coordinators also talk to kids about the health concerns linked with sugary drinks.

If you’re in Barrow on June 3, be sure to stop by for the grand finale of Circus Camp. The children will put on an evening circus show for the whole community. Families will be entertained, and the children get to show off their new physical activity skills.

April 26
Want to make a healthy salad that passes the kid test?

Pink Potato Salad 2.JPGWant to make a healthy salad that passes the kid test?
Alaska kids tried 20 new salad recipes during the past year, and their top choices for salads, dressings, and seasonings were printed in the new Alaska School Salad Book, which is available online for free.
Alaska kids from the Alaska Gateway School District in Tok and the Boys and Girls Home of Alaska in Fairbanks taste-tested pizza salad, crispy ranch chickpeas, Mediterranean couscous, and more and then graded them with words, and scores.
"It is epic and good," said one child about one of the salads. “Awesome,” said another.
When asked to rate a salad on a scale of 1-6, with 6 being the best, one student’s score went through the roof: 999,999.Pizza Salad
It’s hard to question the deliciousness of a salad when one child says, “It’s the best thing in the world.”
The Alaska School Salad Book was published in partnership by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS); the Department of Education and Early Development; the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Agriculture; the University of Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service; the Alaska Gateway School District; and the Boys and Girls Home of Alaska The recipes come in bulk sizes so that schools can make them for the growing number of salad bars available in Alaska schools. But don’t worry if you’re not up for making a salad that feeds 100 people. The health department has also printed all of the salad recipes in quantities that feed a much smaller family of four. All of the recipes are saved as PDF files and can be printed and cut-out for your personal recipe files.

The salad recipes provide fun news ways to help make fruits and vegetables a part of children’s daily diets because they are essential for optimal child growth, weight management and chronic disease prevention, said Diane Peck, a registered dietitian with DHSS. Unfortunately, Alaska children are not eating enough fruits and veggies. Only 20% of Alaska high school students eat the minimum recommended amount of five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, according to Alaska’s recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
The salad book, and the smaller-size family recipe cards, show off unique ways to mix fruits and vegetables in salads. Toss together wheat berries, green peppers, black olives, some spices and a little mozzarella cheese and diced pepperoni and you have pizza salad. It’s got all the flavors of pizza, but is served in a bowl and not on a crust. Fruits and vegetables are front and center in the Carrot and Mandarin Orange Salad. Want a surprise of color? Prepare pink potato salad with red potatoes – skin still on – and whole beets.
 “It was exciting to see the kids trying new foods, especially foods that come from Alaska,” Peck said. “The students made great suggestions to improve some of the original recipes. They were so eager to try new foods when they were involved in the process.” 

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