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January 12
Little equipment needed to keep your preschoolers active this winter

​JANUARY 12, 2021 — When you’re 30, there’s a lot of gear you could grab to stay active outdoors during the winter. Maybe it’s skis, trekking poles, or snowshoes.

200302 Head Start PANU-0173 web.jpgBut what about when you’re 3? Staying active throughout the coldest, darkest months — especially this winter — is important for the youngest of children. Families and experts are finding ways to keep preschool-age kids moving with some of the simplest, low-cost ideas that are still possible during the pandemic.

Korynn and Ken Applegate of Anchorage are parents of five kids. They’ve had plenty of experience keeping preschoolers active. The Applegates stock a big plastic tub outside year-round with many options. Their five kids find all kinds of toys in that tub, including balls, hand-me-down hockey sticks, pucks, Frisbees and items that may suggest summertime play, but that doesn’t limit their use in the winter. Inside that tub, the kids find gardening tools they can use to dig, sculpt and carry snow from one place to another.  

Alaska communities also offer winter sports programs for kids as young as ages 3–6. Learn-to-skate programs in Alaska may start with 3- to 4-year-olds. The Junior Nordic cross country ski program in Anchorage starts with 6-year-olds. 

 “We started our kids young with local learn-to-skate programs,” said Korynn Applegate. “The age they started depended on the child, but most were 5 years old. Except one of the boys. We started him skating at 3 because he was totally obsessed with hockey. He slept with a hockey stick.” 

Applegate said she’s found that keeping her kids active “helps keep the depression bug away, especially when it starts getting dark.” Dr. Diane Craft agrees. Craft is a national expert on early childhood physical activity and the author of “Active Play! Fun Physical Activities for Young Children.” Vigorous activity for children is important for many reasons, including helping kids sleep better at naptime and at night, Craft said.

“Physical activity can be a great stress reducer — for both young children and their family,” Craft said. “With the added stress of the COVID-19 virus, actively playing and laughing together may be just what we all need.” 

How much physical activity should a preschooler get each day?

Parents often say that their preschooler never stops moving. That’s likely true for most 3- to 5-year-olds. The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend kids ages 3–5 stay physically active throughout the day, with a target of 3 hours of physical activity per day. That should include a mix of light, moderate and vigorous activity. 

Parents, teachers and other caregivers of preschoolers can encourage active play that includes a variety of movements. Activities, such as hopping, skipping, jumping, and tumbling, can help build strong bones and muscles. Kids need adults to help them learn how to use their muscles and move their bodies. Learning how to throw and kick a ball, or how to skate or ski, helps kids develop skills that can strengthen their bodies and improve coordination. 

“It’s important to remember that physical activity for young children is about having fun while learning to move their bodies. It is NOT about competition,” Craft said.

Craft also stressed the importance of adults as good role models for young kids. 

“Be active yourself to show young children how important physical activity is for you – and for them,” Craft said. “Having fun with children while being active can help them develop a lifelong enjoyment of physical activity.” 

When possible, take activity outside this winter

Heading outdoors can add creativity and invention to activities. Applegate says her kids are always making up new games when they’re playing outside. 

“They even make up new words for their games,” Applegate said.

Find ways to turn everyday winter activities into something more. After shoveling the driveway, use that shovel to create a snow maze in the yard. Challenge kids to run, hop or skip through the maze without stepping over the walls. Make it even more magical by creating ice luminaries with your children and using them to brighten the twists and turns of the maze. 

200302 Head Start PANU-0125 web.jpgAlaska’s gift is space to move, with hundreds of parks and miles of trails. Many of these are great places for families with young children to walk, climb or just play. The Anchorage Park Foundation has maps for many of the parks and trails in Anchorage. Families living outside of Anchorage can find parks, trail maps and updates throughout the state on the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation website and using apps like OuterSpatial

Meredith Gutierrez, Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Anchorage Park Foundation, says the Schools on Trails program encourages everyone to go outside, but especially those with small children. 

“Being outdoors for just a few minutes a day benefits children’s physical, mental, and emotional health,” Gutierrez said. “Give your kids the room to explore, move, and make noise. What games can they imagine? What animals do they think wander through your space?What is something big or small they notice?” 

When playing outdoors, be sure to provide young kids with the appropriate clothing for staying warm and dry. Kids should be dressed in layers and have their hands, feet, ears, and heads covered. They also should have periodic breaks to warm up inside. Physical activity doesn’t have to take place all at once. Kids benefit from physical activity broken up into short bursts. When it’s colder, kids can play outdoors for several shorter periods throughout the day. Be mindful of your preschoolers' limits and needs, such as extra clothing, water, and snacks, when heading out for hikes and longer activities.

Staying active when you can’t get outside 

There are lots of indoor activities to help young kids move their bodies when it’s too cold or stormy to go outside. Check out these 25 ways to get moving at home from the American Heart Association.

Dr. Craft shared this idea: “Separate several pairs of socks. Scatter one of each pair at one end of an open space and scatter their mates at the other end of the space. Challenge children to each pick up one sock, run down to the other end, and look among all the socks to find the exact match to the one in their hand. Run back with the matched socks to the starting point and repeat until all the socks have been reunited with their exact match. Vary the movement – run, jump, hop, and tiptoe from one end to the other, finding the mates for each sock.”

Other indoor activities include games that require movement, such as charades, Follow the Leader, Simon Says and Twister. Do impressions of your favorite animals or act out the scenes from a book. Dancing to music also helps kids, and adults, have fun while moving their bodies. There are many free and low-cost videos and apps that are specifically made to get young kids moving. Go Noodle​ videos have catchy, clever songs and movements for kids of all ages.

Families also can find ways to use spaces and household items in different ways to encourage movement. The Applegates set up obstacle courses in their garage. This is a great way to teach kids how to go over, under, and around objects. The younger kids like to ride their tricycles or pedal cars in the garage, too.

Play safely near others this winter 

Better treatments and COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available in Alaska, but it’s still important to play safely during the pandemic. When playing near kids outside your family’s social bubble, outside interactions are best. Stay six feet away from others and wear masks, even outside. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and wash or sanitize hands frequently. Parents should carefully consider using playgrounds​. Social distancing is difficult at playgrounds, making spread of the virus possible. There are so many outdoor places to visit across the state, though, giving families with little children a lot of options to get out and play.


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December 29
New national dietary guidelines recommend infants and toddlers avoid sugary drinks and foods

​DECEMBER 29, 2020 — The new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued today strengthen the recommendation to limit sugary drinks at younger ages. Infants and children younger than 2 years old should avoid all foods and drinks with added sugar, the guidelines state. 

Play-Every-Day-Drink-Water-Poster-8.5_x11_.jpgThis new national recommendation for young children aligns with similar guidance issued in 2019 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Heart Association. All four organizations agreed:  Sugary drinks are not recommended for children ages 5 and younger. The 2019 report — called Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids — said sugary drinks include fruit drinks and ades (like lemonade), which can be in liquid or powdered form; sweetened water; sports and energy drinks; and soda. The report also recommended not serving little children flavored milk, like chocolate or strawberry.

“The sugar we eat and drink day after day increases our chances of developing health problems that can last a lifetime, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity,” said Karol Fink, registered dietitian and manager of Alaska’s Section of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “We often focus on the sugar added to foods, but drinks are the main source of added sugars in many people’s daily diets. Parents can make a big improvement in their children’s health by cutting out those sugary drinks.”

New guidelines recommend people of all ages limit added sugar in drinks and foods

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is issued every five years jointly by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture (USDA). Scientists along with nutrition and health experts work together to provide recommendations about what to eat and drink to stay healthy and reduce the chances of developing obesity and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. In Alaska, about 1 out of 3 children is overweight or obese, and 2 out of 3 adults are overweight or obese.

The 2020-2025 report kept the recommendation first released in the 2015-2020 guidelines that states people ages 2 and older should limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of the calories they eat and drink each day. Added sugars are sugars, syrups and other sweeteners that are added to foods or drinks when they are processed or prepared. Added sugars do not include naturally occurring sugars, such as those in plain white milk and whole fruits.

Examples of sweetened foods include granola bars, sweetened breakfast cereals, cookies and cakes. It’s drinks, however, that can lead to much of our daily sugar intake. There is strong evidence​ that consuming sugary drinks is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay.

What does the recommended daily sugar limit look like when it comes to drinks? According to the dietary guidelines, a person eating 2,000 calories a day should limit their daily added sugar to about 12.5 teaspoons. Just one sugary drink, like a bottle of soda, can take you over that limit (a 20-ounce soda can have 16 teaspoons of added sugar). A 16-ounce glass of a powdered orange drink — a common beverage in Alaska — has about 11 teaspoons of added sugar. A bottle of a sports drink can have 9 teaspoons of added sugar.

Added sugars can be tricky to spot because they go by many different names, such as honey, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. That’s why it’s important to read the ingredient list on the back of a drink or food container to find all the added sugars. The updated Nutrition Facts labels tell you how much added sugar there is in a food or drink on the line called “Includes Added Sugars” under the “Total Carbohydrate” section. 

The 2020-2025 dietary guidelines support Play Every Day’s mission to reduce the amount of sugary drinks that Alaska children and families consume every day. In Alaska, high consumption of sugary drinks starts at a young age. About 1 out of 3 Alaska 3-year-olds (31%) drinks some amount of sugary beverages every day, according to the 2018 Alaska Childhood Understanding Behaviors Survey. By high school, almost 1 out of 2 Alaska teenagers drinks one or more sugary beverages every day, as reported in the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. 

Play Every Day is sharing new messages this year to encourage families to serve water or white milk instead of sugary drinks. One message focuses on helping families understand the large amount of sugar hiding in drinks commonly served to young children. Another message focuses on parents and caregivers modeling the choice to drink healthy beverages so children see that behavior and do the same.

New recommendations for infants, toddlers, and pregnant and breastfeeding women

The 2020-2025 dietary guidelines now provide recommendations from birth through older adulthood. The report is organized into sections that focus on life stages, including a new focus on babies and toddlers under age 2, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The new guidelines recommend that infants exclusively drink human milk for about the first 6 months of life. This should be continued through at least the first year of life, and longer if desired. If human milk isn’t available, infants can drink iron-fortified infant formula during the first year. Babies also should have supplemental vitamin D beginning soon after birth. 

At about 6 months, babies can start eating foods that provide many nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, but include no or little added sugars, saturated fat and salt. That includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and more. Parents should encourage babies and toddlers to eat a variety of foods, including those rich in iron and zinc. That’s particularly important for infants fed human milk, the guidelines state. 

The highlights of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are published online​. A short executive summary is published at this link. For more information and tips to choose healthier drinks, visit this Play Every Day web page​.

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December 06
Merry and bright: Get out and light up the nights leading up to Dec. 21

Join Alaskans across the state to light a candle for solstice, welcoming brighter times to come

DECEMBER 6, 2020 — John Brueck in Cantwell has about 70 empty yogurt containers stored in a closet at work. 

John Pearce in Anchorage has a kiddie pool, 5-gallon buckets and triangle frames he made out of plywood and two-by-fours in his garage.

None of these things come to mind when we say “get out and play” during the winter — but they could.

When the days get shorter, darker and some might say drearier, we tend to gravitate to the couch and the carbs rather than bundling up and getting outside for a walk, a ski or playing around with the kids. Sometimes we’re just looking for a reminder that spending time outside​ can help clear up what we’re feeling on the inside, even if only for a short while. During the darkest days, taking your activity outdoors can make things a little brighter, which is where those containers and two-by-fours come in.  

Denali--Luminary.jpegOur lives are feeling like the ‘90s movie “Groundhog Day” right now. Every day is reliving a slight variation of yesterday. Want to break the monotony? Try something new. Stick with this blog until the end and see how you can join Alaskans from Kaktovik to Ketchikan and light up the night together for winter solstice

Between now and Dec. 21, there are a few ways to get your homemade lights ready. Use a quart-sized yogurt container like John Brueck does and make an easy and beautiful ice candle holder. If you’re a big yogurt eater (it’s a great source of protein, especially with no or low sugar, but we digress), you could make dozens of them that line pathways or driveways to brighten your outdoor activities. Or you could take your kiddie pool, buckets and wood frames like John Pearce and turn your downtown backyard into a candle-lit winter wonderland to delight your children and make playing outdoors even more fun. 

Light your pathways with ice luminaries

John Brueck has been a park ranger at Denali National Park for the past 10 years. He’s also a cross country skier who’s helped organize and decorate for a popular annual event called the Winter Solstice Ski and Stroll. That’s when the community comes together and creates about 400 ice candle holders to light up a one-mile ski trail through the national park. 

“It’s a fun thing to do on the darkest day of the year,” Brueck said.

People call these ice candle holders by different names. Some call them luminaries. Brueck calls them a slight variation of that — luminarias — in honor of the tradition behind them. Brueck said the idea for the ice candle holders comes from the New Mexico tradition of filling brown paper bags with sand, and then placing a small lit candle inside. These paper lanterns line walkways during the holiday season.

“We adopted that idea up here,” Brueck said.

The Denali National Park Ski and Stroll will not be happening this year due to the pandemic, but Alaskans can still borrow the event’s idea and brighten up their yards and even driveways with ice candle holders.

Making your own ice luminary is a simple, fun process that can involve the whole family: 

Luminaria trail (10).jpgStep 1: Fill an empty yogurt container or bucket with water, almost to the top. Add food coloring if you want a colorful luminary. Set it outside to freeze. Freezing time varies with the temperature. At 15 degrees Fahrenheit, it could take 15 hours for the luminary to freeze. At minus 20 degrees, it could take only 5 hours, according to Brueck’s instructions. 

Step 2: Check your container. Brueck said the trick is to catch the luminary before it becomes too frozen. When the top is frozen to about 1-inch thick, the luminary is ready to remove. Hold the container over the sink and turn it upside down, with your hand at the bottom over the opening to catch the ice when it slides out. Pour warm water on the bottom of the container to release the ice.

Step 3: If ice formed at the bottom of the container (which is the top of the luminary), use a chisel or warm water to remove the ice and pour the water out. Use the chisel or warm water to form the opening of the luminary to make sure it can fit a small votive candle that’s about 2 inches tall and 1 ½ inches wide. Place a candle inside, light it and enjoy.

Make landscaping a winter activity

Just before Thanksgiving, John Pearce in Anchorage welcomed home his 18-year-old son from his freshman year at college. Pearce also has a junior in high school. Years ago, when his boys were both little, Pearce decided to give them a beautiful surprise in their own backyard. That winter playground became a family tradition.

The idea came after seeing some friends line their driveway with ice candle holders made from 5-gallon buckets. Think about what Brueck made, but with much larger containers. Pearce was intrigued and started asking questions about how to make them. Then this scientist got to work expanding on the idea. 

John Pearce Frozen Christmas Tree.jpg“The next winter, we made an ice playground in the backyard for the boys because they were young,” he said.  “I basically filled any container I could find and let it freeze.”

Pearce dug a snow maze in the backyard and assembled an outdoor obstacle course that he decorated with frozen creations. Picture this: First, he froze a 5-gallon bucket of water, and the resulting ice block became a tree stump. Next, he lined a kiddie pool with a plastic sheet, filled it with water and froze it outside. The ice disk became the base for the tree, resting on top of the ice stump. For the final step, he took the wooden triangle frames he built with 4-feet sides, lined the frames with plastic, filled them with water and froze them. When he leaned the three large frozen triangles against each other on top of the disk, the result was a frozen Christmas tree that he could brighten with candles or lights made especially for outdoor use.

Pearce said the fun is in the creativity. Play around with what you have. PVC pipe, for example, can turn water into frozen rods. Fill empty cardboard milk cartons with water that’s dyed with food coloring, freeze them and then rip off the cardboard sides. You’re left with ice blocks that your family can turn into sculptures. Kids can be great helpers, Pearce said. 

“They love the activity of pouring water into the forms and helping put them together,” he said.

Light your candles across Alaska on Dec. 20

Starting now to create your own ice luminary will get your family ready for a first-time statewide event the day before winter solstice. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is inviting communities across Alaska to partner in this event and make it their own. Together, we will join “Bring Back the Light.” It’s simple to participate and won’t take much time, but it will celebrate our resiliency, support for one another, and hope for better times to come. New vaccines shown to be highly effective and treatments are on their way. We can shine our lights to honor the health care workers, teachers and others who’ve cared for us, taught our children in whatever ways possible, and kept critical businesses going during this difficult year. 

At 5 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20, stand outside on your porch or in your front yard. Then light a candle or your luminaries, and turn on your flashlights, headlamps or lanterns. If you’d like, sing your favorite holiday song. Take a walk around your neighborhood and enjoy the lights around you. We hope you’ll see your neighbors shining their lights and welcoming better and brighter things to come in 2021. 

Learn more by checking out the Facebook event or on the DHSS winter resiliency website.  


Photographs courtesy of John Pearce, John Brueck and the Denali National Park and Preserve 

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November 17
Take care of your health, body and mind. It's more important now than ever.

​NOVEMBER 17, 2020 — Keep distance between you and others. That’s what we need to do — but no one said you had to stay inside.

Alaska’s gift is space to move. Give yourself a break every day to get out and play.

Share our new message about being active to feel better physically and mentally. The Play Every Day video is posted here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXNPzfvI_UI​

Go for a ski, play in the snow, or just take a walk. Doing any activity, for as much time as you have each day, will help you feel better during the next few months that require doing everything we can to keep our families and others healthy. Better treatments and vaccines are coming, but we don’t need to wait for those to take care of ourselves today. 

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November 10
Celebrate winter holidays in new ways: Travel and in-person gatherings can increase chances of spreading COVID-19

​NOVEMBER 10, 2020 — We just wrapped up celebrating Halloween in new ways that used distance rather than doorstep delivery of treats. Families slid treats down long tubes into children’s bags or hung them off clotheslines for kids to grab, one at a time. 

As we transition from one holiday to the next, the same recommendations apply for finding new and different ways to celebrate. We’re used to celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas with close family and friends. Traditions are important, but what are the safest ways to celebrate this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with cases escalating? Many Alaskans are separated from loved ones who live in other states. Should they consider traveling to celebrate in person? 

The CDC recently published guidance on safer ways to honor holidays. This fall and winter, the lowest-risk celebrations involve staying close to home and avoiding air travel, as well as getting together in-person with only immediate family or your small household bubble. 

GiveThanksStaySafe-01.jpgThere are many safer ways for families to celebrate the season, said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer. Go caroling outside with your family. Exchange your favorite holiday recipes with friends, and then hold a cooking party over Zoom. Celebrate the spirit of giving by finding ways to help and serve your neighbors or elders in the community. During a statewide meeting Monday, leaders in Alaska’s faith communities shared ways they are serving elders and people who are feeling alone during the holidays. 

“We’re starting a pen pal project with residents at the Pioneer Homes and other assisted living facilities,” said Pastor Matt Schultz of First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage. They’re making cards and sharing them with elders during the holidays.

“There is a lot of hope right now, with improved treatment and vaccine development, but at the same time we have a lot of cases in Alaska and in the United States, and our hospitals are filling up. To protect those we love, we all need to plan our holiday season carefully this year,” Zink said. “Connecting with family and friends is vital to our health and well-being, but we need to connect creatively and virtually so everyone can stay safe and healthy — and so we keep control of COVID in Alaska. We want you to have a happy and healthy holiday season and we want to make sure there is health care capacity. We need the help of all Alaskans to ensure that happens.” 

Should you attend indoor holiday parties or gatherings this fall and winter? 

Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen, staff physician with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, recognizes that people will be tempted to hold a holiday gathering inside, but she said it’s safest to limit those in-person celebrations to only people in your household bubble. COVID-19 cases have been rising fast in Alaska. That makes gathering indoors — even with people you know who are outside your household bubble — a very risky activity, Ohlsen said. That’s because there’s typically less ventilation and room for physical distancing with indoor rather than outdoor gatherings.

Sometimes people say they feel safe inviting non-household members inside because those guests don’t feel sick, Ohlsen said. Many people with COVID-19 can feel fine, or have very minimal symptoms, and then spread the illness to others, she said.

“This virus is tricky. It’s sneaky,” Ohlsen said. “It likes to move from person to person by not making almost half the people who get infected feel sick.”

“Unfortunately, the people you are most likely to get it from are your closest friends — if that’s who you have close contact with.”

In warmer parts of the country, families may be considering a small outdoor holiday gathering. An outdoor gathering in the cold, darkness of an Alaska December may not be that inviting. If you do hold or attend an outdoor gathering, bundle up and make sure people can stay warm and dry. Limit attendees, allow physical distance between guests, provide ways to wash or sanitize hands and commonly touched surfaces, and require everyone to wear face coverings, Ohlsen said. Typically, holiday gatherings focus on sharing favorite treats. This year, however, the CDC recommends that guests bring food and drinks only for themselves and avoid potluck-style gatherings. More recommendations for food and drinks at gatherings can be found on the CDC website

When getting together with others, it’s important to consider the actions that guests have been taking prior to gathering, and how they will act while together. Get-togethers are more likely to spread illness when they include guests who aren’t regularly staying at least six feet apart from others and aren’t wearing face coverings or taking other precautions. Once the get-together is happening, it’s again more likely to spread illness when guests do not wear masks, don’t keep distance from others, and fail to wash or sanitize their hands, according to the CDC holiday guidance.

When should people not attend an in-person gathering, inside or outside?

People should not attend or host in-person celebrations — even if held outdoors — if they or anyone in their household:

Should you travel by airplane this fall and winter to celebrate holidays in person with loved ones? 

The two biggest risks to Alaskans for spreading COVID-19 this winter are indoor gatherings and travel, Ohlsen said. The CDC holiday guidance states that travel increases the chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home this year is the best way to protect yourself and others, the guidance states. 

“Many of us in Alaska are used to enduring long periods of time without seeing our families and then having just a few brief days when we travel to see our families,” Ohlsen said. 

“There is something particularly cruel about the virus taking that away from us this year. We all feel like we need a break. Unfortunately, this virus is not going to take a break.”

Traveling during a pandemic can increase chances of spreading COVID-19, although taking precautions like wearing a mask and washing hands often can help reduce those chances. Ohlsen said she worries that holiday travel could increase the likelihood of being exposed to someone who’s sick in airports, on flights, in ride shares and in public transportation. So many people want to travel right now. They’ve really been missing that travel, so they might decide to fly, even though they don’t feel well, Ohlsen said. That decision could spread illness to people traveling all over the country, increasing the chances that you’ll catch COVID-19 and inadvertently bring it to a holiday gathering you’re traveling to, that someone else will have COVID-19 at your gathering and give it to you, or you’ll catch it on the return and bring the virus back home. 

The CDC has guidance on when to cancel travel: if you’re feeling sick, if you’ve been around someone with suspected or diagnosed COVID-19 in the past 14 days, if you’ve tested positive or if you are waiting on the results of a test. 

You can read more about travel guidance during the pandemic here:

Are there creative ways to celebrate the holidays to reduce the chances of spreading illness? 

Celebrate-the-holidays-Safely-03 (1).jpgCelebrating holidays with friends and family is so important right now. To prevent inadvertently spreading the virus to loved ones, it’s best to celebrate only in-person with household members and to include others in your celebrations through virtual means, states the CDC holiday guidance​. This is particularly important to protect the health of older people and others who face higher chances for serious illness from COVID-19

Pastor Undra Parker at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and other Alaska faith leaders are organizing exchanges to share favorite holiday recipes with others. This helps people connect through cooking treasured foods, even though they aren’t eating them together. Pastor Parker said his church is also considering a contest that invites children to create their own gingerbread houses at home and record their creative efforts to share with others. 

Dr. Ohlsen shared another way to use technology to invite family and friends to your holiday dinner table. Consider cooking your feast with your household, and then setting up a computer at the end of the holiday table to eat together, but virtually. Yes, it’s not going to feel the same as past holidays, but it’s a creative connection when it counts. 


October 12
Many programs can help Alaskans feed their families during the pandemic

​OCTOBER 12, 2020 — The pandemic has made it harder for many Alaskans to feed their families. Reduced work hours or job losses have many parents worrying about paying for groceries. Kids unable to go to school or child care may be missing some healthy meals that families relied on to make ends meet.

KidsEatFree.PNGMany local, state and national programs are working overtime to ensure that kids and families are able to find safe, healthy foods during this difficult time. Federal programs are adding new services or eliminating some requirements, making it easier to get help. Local food pantries are being creative with the many different ways they’re providing food to an increasing number of families.

 “We know that before the pandemic, 20 percent of Alaska kids lived in homes that may not have had enough food,” said Cara Durr, Director of Public Engagement with the Food Bank of Alaska. “New projections now estimate that will increase to 28 percent because of COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, the number of emergency food boxes we distribute grows each week. Right now, more families need help to put food on the table.”

Here are some resources that can help families find food. Specifics about these programs are changing frequently. Check program websites or call to get the most up-to-date information.

School and Child Care Meals and Snacks

Free and reduced-price school meals are available through schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Right now, each school district has its own plan for distributing meals. Some districts may offer free meals only to students enrolled in the program, while others may feed all students in their schools or community. Some districts may have parents pick up meals at a distribution site, while others may deliver meals directly to students. If a family did not qualify for free or reduced-price meals last year, they can apply again if they have recently lost job hours, experienced layoffs or had a change in circumstances that reduced their family’s income. Contact your local school or school district to learn more about how they’re distributing food and how to apply.

Child care centers, family day care homes, and afterschool programs that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program provide healthy meals and snacks to children of all ages. Some of these sites may be providing grab-and-go meals for kids or families. To find a list of agencies operating the CACFP in Alaska, visit the program’s website.

Head Start and Early Head Start are child care programs for children from birth to age five. Along with high-quality education and health services, Head Start provides healthy, nutritious meals for children. At this time, some Head Start programs are operating, but with a more limited capacity, while others are providing grab-and-go meals or food boxes for families. Head Start programs are located throughout Alaska. Go online to find a Head Start program in your area. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Meals 4 Kids is an interactive map to find nearby sites that provide summer meals for kids when school is not in session. The USDA has extended the Summer Food Service Program through December 2020, so many of these programs may still be providing meals to students.  Before you go, contact the program you find on the map to get the latest information.

Food Credit Cards

The Alaska Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly “Food Stamps” — provides a monthly benefit on an electronic benefits card called an “Alaska Quest Card” for food purchases at participating stores. During each month of the pandemic emergency, the federal government may approve Alaska’s request to increase the monthly SNAP benefit. People can apply for SNAP by completing an application and submitting it to any of the Division of Public Assistance Offices through fax, mail or drop boxes in the lobbies. People needing help also can contact the Division of Public Assistance or the Food Bank of Alaska. For up-to-date information, visit the Division of Public Assistance SNAP webpage or the Food Bank’s COVID-19 SNAP Updates website, or contact the SNAP Outreach team at (907) 222-3119 (call), (907) 891-8913 (text), or snap@foodbankofalaska.org.

The Pandemic-Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program provided additional benefits for families with kids who missed school meals last year (2019-2020 school year), when schools closed due to the pandemic. More funding may be approved to extend the program. Check with the Division of Public Assistance website for updates. 

The Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) provides nutrition and breastfeeding education, counseling, support, nutritious foods and referrals to needed services. WIC serves babies and children up to age 5, pregnant women, and new mothers. If you are a mother, father, grandparent, foster parent or other legal guardian of a child under 5 years of age, you can apply for your child. Participants receive an eWIC card to purchase specific foods containing the nutrients that women, infants, and children need during pregnancy, breastfeeding, infancy and early childhood. 

Due to the pandemic, clients can set a WIC appointment and become eligible without visiting a clinic. To apply, visit the Division of Public Assistance website, contact your local WIC clinic or call (907) 465-3100 to schedule an appointment. The Alaska WIC Program also operates the only program in the country that mails WIC foods to eligible clients if they are unable to access an authorized WIC vendor. Beginning in December 2020, Alaska WIC’s new Balto Box program will allow rural participants to place online or phone orders for their WIC foods.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program provides monthly commodity food boxes to low-income seniors in limited areas of the state. To apply, visit the state website​

Food Banks, Food Pantries and Food Boxes

The Food Bank of Alaska has many different programs and resources to ensure Alaskans have access to food. Their COVID-19 Food Resources web page lists multiple services currently available for Anchorage and Mat-Su families. Use the virtual map on the Statewide Resources page to find services in communities throughout Alaska. 

Check out the useful calendar that lists the most current hot meal sites and food pantries in Anchorage, Girdwood, Eagle River and Mat-Su. The calendar also lists mobile food pantry sites and emergency pop-up sites for Anchorage. The calendar contains a map, addresses, and the People Mover bus numbers for Anchorage sites.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides emergency food boxes at no cost to Alaska families with lower incomes. TEFAP has recently increased the number of people who are eligible to receive these food boxes. To see if you qualify, apply online at the application web page. To see if TEFAP is available in your community, search “TEFAP” on the Food Bank of Alaska Statewide Resources​ interactive map.  

The Children’s Lunchbox in Anchorage provides food boxes at several distribution sites. The boxes contain dinners and snacks for two days for each child. Families will also be able to receive grab-and-go pantry boxes of shelf-stable meals for a family of four while supplies last. Check out the website for locations, dates and times of food box distribution, as well as open meal sites for kids. 

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) is run by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The program provides food boxes with a month’s supply of nutritious foods to Alaska Native, American Indian and non-Indian households that meet income requirements. It’s a great alternative to SNAP for people who don’t live near a grocery store. To see a current list of active federally recognized tribes that participate in Alaska’s program, visit the website, email glnothstine@anthc.org​, or call (907) 729-2975.

There are many other local food pantries and programs throughout Alaska. Alaska 2-1-1 can help connect all Alaskans to these food resources, no matter where they live. Search the 2-1-1 database, email Alaska211@ak.org, or call 2-1-1 or (800) 478-2221.



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October 09
Alaska’s lead doctors strongly recommend wearing masks while playing sports, exercising

​Increased chances of spreading illness as COVID-19 cases climb and sports move indoors

BLOG UPDATE (OCTOBER 23, 2020) – DHSS would like to clarify that we follow CDC guidance for youth sports, which recommends that you wear a mask if possible. Read the guidance for details.

During a statewide meeting this Monday, doctors from the Alaska and Anchorage health departments strengthened their guidance for wearing masks given rising COVID-19 cases and a move to indoor sports. Doctors recommend that all youth athletes wear masks when they’re playing or competing — even when that activity is vigorous. 

In the summer and fall, coaches, school districts and athletic associations wrote COVID-19 mitigation plans for youth sports that prioritized wearing face coverings while on the sidelines, coaching or watching. Players could choose to wear masks while engaged in vigorous activity, but some mitigation plans said athletes didn’t have to wear face coverings during exertion. 

Whywewearmasks.jpgAlaska’s lead doctors now strongly recommend wearing face coverings for sports, especially for indoor sports, including playing basketball, wrestling, cheerleading, and playing hockey and indoor soccer. That same strong recommendation for mask wearing goes for adults working out, running on treadmills, or exercising in other ways in indoor gyms. The exception? Swimmers can’t wear a mask when their faces are in the water (but they do need to wear one on the pool deck). 

“I am 100 percent in favor of safe distancing and universal masking,” said Dr. Bruce Chandler, chief medical officer with the Anchorage health department. “Unless our face is underwater, I think we should all be wearing masks when we’re around people — except when we’re at home.”

If all youth athletes wear masks, that also levels the playing field and eliminates any competitive advantage attached to not wearing a mask, said Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen, staff physician with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. 

COVID-19 cases increasing statewide, mainly in larger communities

COVID-19 cases are increasing significantly in Alaska. Nearly 1,000 new infections have been reported during the past week, Ohlsen said. 

“The majority of the cases are increasing in Fairbanks and in Anchorage. In those two communities, they are increasing very quickly,” Ohlsen said.

When the number of cases goes up, it increases your chances of being exposed to someone who’s sick and does not know it while you play sports or attend a gathering, Ohlsen said. These interactions can keep increasing the spread of COVID-19 throughout communities and beyond if you’re traveling from one city to another for competitions or events. 

Until now, many sports held during the pandemic were outside where there’s fresh air circulating and space to spread out from others. 

“With indoor sports, this gets much trickier,” Ohlsen said. 

Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s state epidemiologist, discussed a new update to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance about how COVID-19 can spread​. The recent update states there’s good evidence that COVID-19 can spread person-to-person through airborne transmission of very small virus particles that can remain suspended in the air, not just through respiratory droplets that you might breathe, yell, sing, cough, or sneeze out. Airborne transmission appears to be a much less common way for the virus to spread than close-range (less than 6 feet) respiratory droplet transmission. Documented airborne transmissions have typically involved the presence of an infectious person being in an enclosed and poorly ventilated space for an extended period of time (more than 30 minutes). Enough virus was present in the space to cause infections in people who were more than 6 feet away or who passed through that space soon after the infectious person had left.

“This underscores the importance of avoiding congregate settings and wearing a mask when you are in an enclosed space with others, even if you are able to maintain a 6-foot distance from them,” McLaughlin said.   

Multiple sports teams under quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure

Youth sports teams across the state are also reporting COVID-19 cases and possible exposures. The Anchorage School District (ASD), for example, reported 14 teams undergoing 14-day quarantine periods due to potential virus exposure from a teammate or coach, said Marty Lang, an ASD director of secondary education, at Monday’s meeting. Eleven of those 14 teams under quarantine play indoor sports, he said. ASD issued a two-week stop to high school volleyball after multiple teams at a handful of schools reported COVID-19 illness, related symptoms, or exposure to illness.

“We definitely seem to be seeing more outbreaks indoors than with our outdoor sports,” he said.

Lang joined Holly Zumbro, ASD principal of activities and student services, at the meeting Monday to share updates about fall sports mitigation plans. They also asked questions to inform upcoming mitigation plans for soon-to-start winter sports.

As of Oct. 5, ASD had not reported a case of COVID-19 transmission from one team member to another. The state health department, however, has seen likely person-to-person transmission linked to youth sports not associated with school. Lang said ASD had a student athlete who practiced and competed while having COVID-19 symptoms for almost a week before reporting those symptoms. He said the district is reinforcing that student athletes should not come to practice or competitions when feeling ill. Locker rooms should be limited to use of bathrooms and athletes should come dressed to play for practice or competitions, said state health department leaders. 

Take the time now to try many masks and choose what’s most comfortable

Ohlsen knows firsthand that you can wear masks during sports and still perform well, even when competing. She’s been wearing masks for years while cross country skiing to minimize symptoms from exercise- and cold-induced asthma.

Ohlsen recommended that families help youth athletes find the masks that work for them. They can try many different types to find ones that are comfortable on their faces and allow them to breathe while playing or competing at a vigorous level. At first, wear the masks for short bouts of activity. Then work up to wearing the mask all the time during sports, Ohlsen said, even during full exertion at competitions.

“I have found it really helpful to have different masks for different activities and different levels of intensity,” said Ohlsen.

“It is something that you can get used to.”

Some people prefer to exercise while wearing surgical masks. Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, likes to wear this type of mask while running outside and when she may be around other people on the trails. For light bike rides, hikes, and trips to the grocery store, Ohlsen wears double-layer cloth masks that are easy to wash in the laundry, using hot water and detergent. When she skis longer distances, Ohlsen wears a buff that she can fold over to provide a double layer of fabric over her mouth and nose. This still allows her to breathe during exertion. She chooses a neoprene mask when she’s skiing in below-zero temperatures.

Slowing the spread of COVID on the sports field requires being careful off the field

Wearing masks during sports practices and competitions can help prevent the spread of illness on the basketball court, field or trails. But that only accounts for actions taken during an hour or so each day. How athletes act during the other 23 hours of their days can have a huge impact on spreading illness — or not — among their teammates, coaches and spectators, said Ohlsen and other Alaska doctors. 

“A lot of what we’re seeing is kids passing it to kids, not in our athletic venues, but in driving in cars together, participating in sleepovers, pizza parties – all of those sort of natural social behaviors of teenagers,” said Lang from ASD.

These day-to-day decisions that include wearing face coverings when near others have big impacts on the amount of virus spreading in communities. Zink acknowledged that we would all rather not wear masks, but this won’t last forever. This fall and winter, while cases are high prior to getting a vaccine, masks are a tool we can all use to protect our communities and our kids, she said.   

Wearing masks while playing sports could protect children’s and teen’s health today and for years to come.  

“Masks slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, but also help to protect the people wearing them,” Zink said. “COVID is new and we are still learning a lot about the long-term health impacts, even in young athletes. A mask can help protect their long-term health as well.”

SOCIAL-MyMaskProtectsYou.jpg



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October 01
The challenge is on: Parents, this is the year to put a new spin on trick-or-treating

​Celebrating holidays during a pandemic requires creative thinking and new traditions

OCTOBER 1, 2020 — We’re one month away from the holiday many kids — and adults — look forward to every year. And rest assured: Halloween is not canceled.

Traditional trick-or-treating with kids gathering on doorsteps isn’t recommended during the pandemic, but it’s the perfect year to try some creative ways to celebrate the day.

Untitled_Artwork 18.jpgWhat about rigging a zipline from your doorstep to the end of your driveway, where a bucket drops a treat into a child’s bag? 

Or stringing up a fishing pole so you can dangle treats near kids, from at least 6 feet away? Just be careful and don't use a hook.

It’s this new kind of thinking that’s going to win Halloween this year. Families who love Halloween and other holidays can and should celebrate during the pandemic. They’ll need to take a different approach, however, and come up with new ways to enjoy the day. 

“It’s a great year to decorate. It’s a great year to share holiday greetings from a distance,” said Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen, a family physician with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. “It’s not a great year to ring a doorbell or hand out treats from your doorstep.”

Ohlsen assures families that there are fun ways to celebrate — even trick-or-treat — that don’t involve getting too close to other people. 

“I think there are ways of doing it that can still capture the joy of Halloween,” she said.

Should families avoid trick-or-treating during a pandemic?

For years, children have trick-or-treated by gathering in groups, going to a doorstep, ringing a doorbell and then receiving a treat from the person who answers the door. That kind of trick-or-treating isn’t recommended during a pandemic, Ohlsen said. 

She recommends a new approach this year. The CDC recently published guidance on safer ways to celebrate Halloween and other holidays.

The lowest-risk way to celebrate Halloween is to dress up in costumes as a family and have a party at home with just your household. Carve pumpkins and roast the seeds, which happen to be a nutritious snack​. Create a new tradition of making Halloween-themed foods and then sharing them while you watch a movie together. Or borrow a tradition from another holiday: Hide a few Halloween treats inside or outside the house and have your child find them — à la Easter egg hunting. Families nationwide are sharing ideas, like making the hunt even spookier by giving kids a flashlight to search for their treasures in the dark. More fun ideas, like scavenger hunts around your home and virtual costume contests, are found in the CDC holiday guidance​

COVID Halloween-01.jpgIf your family chooses to trick-or-treat, Ohlsen recommends these changes this year: Children should only trick-or-treat with family members, not with other friends or people outside their household. They should visit houses that are prepared to deliver treats only at a distance, not from the doorstep. All children and parents who are with them should wear face coverings. 

If your family chooses to welcome trick-or-treaters this year, they should minimize close contact with others. Find creative ways to deliver treats from a distance, and have children only touch the treat they’ll take. Considering clipping individual treats to a clothesline, or hanging them from a tree. Thoroughly wash or sanitize your hands before touching any treats you will give to people outside your household. Distribute only treats in wrappers, and nothing homemade, Ohlsen said. 

You can make these changes and still enjoy seeing all the costumed children. Put on your face covering and sit on lawn chairs outside to watch the children pick up treats from a distance. Stand on your front porch and wave as the little ghosts and goblins pass by. 

If you or a family member has COVID-19 or you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, don’t participate in in-person Halloween celebrations or trick-or-treat, and don’t hand out treats to children. Play Every Day also shares this suggestion to maximize the fun and minimize the sugar overload: Families can make the Halloween handoff even healthier by swapping the treat for a toy, glow-in-the-dark sticks or something else that’s not eaten. 

Some families may not be comfortable with trick-or-treaters coming to their homes this year. What’s a friendly way to let children know you aren’t handing out treats?

“I think there are easy ways to signal whether a house is prepared for trick-or-treating this year, and many houses may not be,” Ohlsen said.

Turning your porch lights off lets families know you aren’t handing out treats. You also can make fun signs or arrange Halloween decorations to encourage people not to approach your doorstep.

Older kids and adults enjoy Halloween, too. Should they visit a haunted house or attend a party this year?

Indoor haunted houses and Halloween parties should be avoided because they increase chances of spreading COVID-19. 

“With cases rising in our two biggest metropolitan areas, this means that gathering indoors — even with people you know who are outside your household bubble — is a very risky activity,” Ohlsen said.

There’s typically less ventilation and space for physical distancing with indoor parties than outdoor gatherings. Outdoor parties should limit attendees, allow physical distance between guests, provide ways to wash or sanitize hands and commonly touched surfaces, and require everyone to wear face coverings (not just Halloween masks), Ohlsen said. Don’t serve homemade treats, she said, and avoid sharing any foods or drinks with others. 

Outdoor parties with just a few close friends, with everyone masked up and physically distanced, are the safest bet. Older kids and adults might also choose a more active option, meeting a few friends for a hike or a bike ride, in costume or riding decorated bikes. Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, so we have all day to celebrate. 

Your family has a deep collection of costume masks: superheroes, pirates, ghosts. On Halloween, can you substitute those costume-style masks for the face coverings you’ve been wearing to prevent spreading COVID-19?

A typical Halloween mask doesn’t offer the same type of protection against COVID-19 that a surgical mask or fabric face covering provides. Make sure children who are trick-or-treating use a covering that provides a double layer of fabric over their nose and mouth, Ohlsen said. The CDC advises against layering a Halloween mask over a fabric face covering because that could make it harder to breathe. Instead, modify the costume so it allows the child to wear the protective face covering, Ohlsen said. Better yet: Decorate your protective face covering so it matches your costume. 

Families, keep that hand sanitizer ready. Children should limit touching their masks and should use hand sanitizer before touching the mask and before and after eating any treats. Ohlsen recommended that children wait until they finish trick-or-treating to thoroughly wash their hands and then touch any contents of the bag.

Is there anything else to consider before kids dig into their bag of treats?

Currently, the CDC holiday guidelines state there’s no evidence to suggest that handling food or eating is linked with directly spreading COVID-19. It’s possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching an object, like food or food packaging, that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes. However, the CDC states this is not thought to be the main way that the virus is spreading. COVID-19 virus is mainly spread person-to-person.

Even so, it’s hard to know who all touched the treats in the bag by the time your child gets home from trick-or-treating, Ohlsen said. Given that, you may want to wash or sanitize your hands well and then wipe down the packaging on the treats with a disinfectant wipe or rubbing alcohol, she said. Make sure you don’t directly use cleaning chemicals, however, on anything your child will eat. After disinfecting the packaging, make sure the wrappers completely dry or are washed free of chemicals before your child touches them. 

Got patience? Ohlsen said another option would be to let the bag of treats sit for a day or longer before giving them to your child.


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September 21
Spot sneaky buzzwords on cereal boxes: Your family’s breakfast may not be as healthy as it seems from the front label

​SEPTEMBER 21, 2020 — Open your cupboard and pull out the cereal boxes. Take a quick look at the words on the front: 

  • Made with whole grains
  • Natural fruit flavors
  • Good source of fiber

Added Sugar Cereal Box 2020.jpegNow turn that box around. Look at the ingredient list, and then check the Nutrition Facts for added sugar. Here’s what you might find on those colorful boxes branded to appeal to young kids:

  • Added sugar often shows up one or more times near the top of the ingredient list.
  • One bowl of sweetened cereal can have as much added sugar as three powdered mini doughnuts or a chocolate candy bar.
  • Fruit may be in the name, but there’s no actual fruit in the cereal.

“Parents are trying to choose healthy foods and drinks for their kids, but reading the front of the packages can make it tricky to figure out what’s healthy, and what’s not,” said Diane Peck, registered dietitian with Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Program. “Food companies don’t have to name all the ingredients — including the added sugar — on the front of the package, but they do on the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list. Next time you shop, take a minute to look beyond the words on the front and turn the box around to find cereals that are low in added sugar and high in whole grains and fiber.”

Look for cereals with no or low added sugar

Sugary drinks are the most common source of added sugar for kids and adults​. These drinks contribute almost half the added sugar in daily diets. But sugar creeps into other foods, too, like ice cream, cakes, cookies, granola bars and other snacks and treats. Often without realizing it, you can start your day with a bowlful of sugar just by eating a sweetened cereal for breakfast.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that children and adults limit their added sugar to less than 10 percent of their daily calories. For an adult eating 2,000 calories a day, that would mean limiting daily sugar to 12 or fewer teaspoons a day. For little children eating smaller meals, that could mean limiting daily sugar to 6 or fewer teaspoons a day. A bowl of some types of cereals can get little children close to that recommended limit.

In January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration updated the Nutrition Facts label to help families spot the added sugar. Now, the label lists grams of added sugars on a separate line under “Total Carbohydrate.” This helps families look at foods and drinks and figure out how much sugar comes from natural sources, like fruit, and how much comes from white sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners that are added in the factory. 

Some cereals contain mostly added sugar, while others are a mix of natural and added sugar. A good example is raisin bran. Natural sugars in this type of cereal come from the raisins. Added sugars are from other sweeteners, like syrups. Turn the cereal box around to find the updated Nutrition Facts label, and look for the line that says “Includes Added Sugars.” One serving of raisin bran can have more than 2 teaspoons of added sugar. 

Peck recommends that families choose cereals with 6 or fewer grams of added sugar per serving. That’s 1 ½ teaspoons of added sugar (1 teaspoon of sugar equals about 4 grams of sugar). Aim for cereals that also have at least 2 grams of fiber per serving. This includes unsweetened oatmeal and some cereals made with whole grains. Breakfast doesn’t have to be served in a bowl, however. Peck recommended these healthy options to start your family’s day: whole grain toast with peanut butter and slices of banana, a fruit smoothie with frozen berries and non-fat milk, or a scrambled egg and salsa in a whole-wheat tortilla.

Eating oatmeal delivers healthy whole grains, but watch out for packets with added sugar

Oatmeal can be a healthy breakfast cereal with whole grains and fiber if you make it from scratch and add fruit — like blueberries — instead of brown sugar or honey. Oatmeal from packets often have added sugar. A cinnamon and spice oatmeal packet, for example, can have almost 3 teaspoons of added sugar. Making instant oatmeal from a bulk container of plain oats can be just as quick and easy as making a packet of oatmeal, and it has no added sugar. 

Another type of whole grain cereal has low added sugar, but a variation of it comes sweetened with honey, giving it as much added sugar as some popular sweetened, colorful cereals. The same size bowls of this whole grain cereal sweetened with honey and the colorful cereal with marshmallows have the same amount of added sugar — 3 teaspoons of sugar in just a 1-cup serving. One cup of cereal doesn’t look like a lot in a bowl. Some people likely eat more during a breakfast, which means even more added sugar. 

Look out for labels that suggest a breakfast cereal is healthier than it is

The cereal box is meant to catch your children’s eye. They’re covered in bright colors and can feature cartoon characters. They’re meant to catch parents’ eyes, too, featuring words that suggest sweetened cereals are good for their families: whole grains, packed with essential vitamins and minerals, even organic.

Organic cereals, however, don’t always mean low in sugar. One organic, cinnamon-flavored cereal has almost 3 teaspoons of added sugar per serving.  Organic cane sugar, brown rice syrup and honey are added sugars, just like white sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

Sugary foods, just like sugary drinks, often have labels that make them seem healthier than they are. A sugary drink label, for example, may focus on the drink having 100% Vitamin C, but not mention the added sugar. Cereal labels may focus on the fiber and not the multiple teaspoons of sugar in each serving. 

Give labels a closer look when they name or show a fruit. The front of a sugary drink and cereal box can have a fruit in the name or show a picture of a fruit, even though they contain no fruit at all. 

Eating sweet cereals and pastries can lead to as much added sugar as treats and candy

When it comes to added sugar, starting the day with a sweetened cereal is similar to starting the day with a bowl of candy. One bowl with a couple servings of a sweet cereal can have as much added sugar as a chocolate bar. A serving of the colorful cereal with marshmallows has about as much added sugar as three powdered mini doughnuts. 

Look out for a lot of added sugar in breakfast pastries. A frosted fruit-flavored pastry, for example, listed a type of sugar four times in the first six ingredients — well before you saw a mention of a fruit. One pastry has about as much added sugar as a bag of chocolate candies you’d find in a grocery store checkout line. 

Visit this Play Every Day website to help you figure out how much sugar is hiding in your foods and drinks. 


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September 08
Your kids are watching: Choose healthy drinks for you, and for them

​SEPTEMBER 8, 2020  You’ve been watching your child copy your every move. You make dinner and your toddler starts playing with his toy pots and pans. You read a book and your preschooler starts flipping through the pictures in hers.

So if you reach for a soda or a sports drink, what is your child going to want?

Play Every Day’s new message ​gives a healthy twist to this copycat behavior. Your child wants what you’re eating and drinking. So if you choose a bottle of water instead of a bottle of a vitamin drink, your child will be more likely to want that healthy option, too.

“Being a role model is the best way to teach children,” said Diane Peck, registered dietitian with Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “If parents want their children to drink water instead of sugary drinks, then parents need to enjoy drinking water, too. Healthy habits in children start with healthy habits in their parents.”

Daddy Can I-9211 web.jpgChildren learn by watching parents

Play Every Day has been focusing its recent messages on keeping families healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The blog published last week discussed what physical education teachers are doing to help children stay active, whether they’re learning online, in person or with a mix of both. The campaign is also talking about other ways to help children grow up healthy. One way is to cut back on serving sugary drinks that can lead to cavities, unhealthy weight gain, type 2 diabetes and other health concerns. 

Earlier this summer, Play Every Day started sharing a new message that uses kids’ love of magic tricks to show much sugar is hiding in sweetened powdered drinks. This month, it will begin sharing a new, 30-second video and related online messages focused on helping children copy their parents in healthy ways.

“Children learn by watching everyone around them, especially their parents,” says the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Daddy Can I-3652 HR.JPGThe new video features an Alaska family who chooses healthy drinks for their two young daughters under the age of 5. Both parents grew up in rural Alaska villages, but now they live in Anchorage. The family loves to fish together, and that became the opening scene for the video. In the first few seconds, you see the 4-year-old ready to copy her dad. “Can I go with you?” she asks, as he prepares his raft to launch along Portage Creek. “Can I help you?” she asks, as he fillets a salmon to grill for dinner. The video ends with the family sitting together in their camp chairs. The dad grabs a can of soda, and his daughter reaches for it: “Daddy, can I please have some?”
Daddy Can I-3652 HR.JPG

That’s where the video reverses the scene. The dad grabs a water bottle instead. When his daughter reaches up for a sip this time, she drinks a healthy option — and so does her dad. 

Choosing healthy drinks and staying active improves health year-round

Sugary drinks are the most common source of added sugars each day. That includes powdered and fruit-flavored drinks; sports, energy and vitamins drinks; soda; and sweetened coffees and teas. Another common sugar-added drink for little kids is chocolate and flavored milk. 

Last year, four leading health organizations published new “Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids” guidelines that say sugary drinks are not recommended for children ages 5 and younger. Limiting added sugar each day is good for the health of older children and adults, too. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting the amount of sugar older children and adults eat and drink to less than 10 percent of their daily calories. 

“Supporting families with options for daily activity and good nutrition can help them stay at a healthy weight and prevent serious health problems like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure,” said Ann Potempa, Play Every Day coordinator. “Having just one of these health problems — obesity, diabetes or high blood pressure — can make it three times more likely that you’d need to go to the hospital if you’re sick with COVID-19. It’s important to try to prevent getting COVID-19, but it’s also essential to stay in the best possible health all year-round to help your body fight the virus if you do get it.”

Sharing messages with families across Alaska

Play Every Day staff run the educational campaign through the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. This summer, they partnered with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and the Chugach National Forest to create this message. All scenes take place near Portage Creek on National Forest land. Sharing this important message through the partnership will help reach all areas of Alaska to ensure kids stay healthy. 

Schools, health clinics and organizations can share these and other Play Every Day messages by downloading free versions on the campaign’s webpages for physical activity and sugary drinks resources. Similar messages are posted on Facebook and Instagram. Please email playeveryday@alaska.gov​ to learn more about ways to share materials about helping Alaska children choose healthy drinks and get daily physical activity for the best health.


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