Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Skip to content

Quick Launch

Home
January 03
Taking care of yourself is worth it
People walking in the woods on a snowy day

​Move to improve: Making this one change can help so many things feel better

January 3, 2022 – Many of us likely started this week with a plan to feel better in 2022. It’s been a long past couple of years, and all of us are looking for a change. 

If your goals this year include any of the following, there is one small change you can make that will make a big difference. That change is being physically active. The list of benefits from activity is long, so hold on:

  • feel better in all kinds of ways
  • sleep better
  • reduce stress
  • feel less anxious or depressed
  • improve your mood
  • improve your chances of living not only longer, but with better health in later years
  • get stronger
  • improve the health of your heart and lungs
  • reduce your pain
  • improve your brain, including your memory and ability to focus
  • improve performance at school, including a link to higher test scores
  • prevent falls
  • maintain or obtain a healthy weight
  • reduce your chances of conditions that can last a long time — like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and some types of cancer
  • prevent a serious illness from COVID-19 if you get infected

Moving your body every week can make all of these positive things happen. Looking for more details on the connection between activity and these positive results? Find them in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans online (PDF).  

And don’t think it’s too late to start moving and feeling better. 

At age 63, Kevin Armstrong of Anchorage began 2020 with a plan to be more active and eat healthier. Facing higher chances for developing diabetes, he signed up to work with a coach through one of Alaska’s diabetes prevention programs (more on those below). He started doing activities he enjoyed: swimming, golfing, walking, lifting weights. By 2021, he weighed 75 pounds less. He lowered his blood pressure. His blood sugar returned to healthy levels. 

“I’m going to change my life for me,” Armstrong said before recording his story to share. 

And he did. 

“I feel fantastic. I haven’t felt this good in 30 years.”

Children snowshoeing

Getting the most benefits from activity

The most benefits from activity come when you get enough of it every week. The ideal amount depends on your age. Preschool-age children feel their best when they’re active throughout the day. School-age children see the most benefits when they’re active at least 60 minutes every day. For adults, it’s 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week. Moderate activity could be walking at a brisk pace or household activities like raking leaves. Vigorous activity steps up the pace to include jogging and running or activities like shoveling snow.

Some benefits of physical activity are immediate. Just one session of activity can cut your current feelings of anxiety, states the physical activity guidelines (PDF). Being active can lower your blood pressure that day, improve your memory and ability to stay focused, and help you sleep better that night. 

Play your way 

For 10 years, Play Every Day has been talking about the value of kids getting out to play every day for the best health. Taking a recess in the middle of the day isn’t just for kids, though. What if you scheduled time on your daily calendar for physical activity like your kids do for PE class? 

Great, you say, so just do it! For some, blocking 30 or 60 minutes a day for physical activity is possible, but others might need to fit in shorter breaks. No problem: Active breaks of any length, even a few minutes, add up to feeling better. 

Alright, you’re ready to move. Maybe you started the year with a new gym membership. That’s great, but keep in mind a gym might be the right place for some, but it’s not actually needed to feel better.

Physical activity doesn’t have to happen in a gym, in a pool, or on a treadmill to count. Walking is one of the easiest, most accessible and effective activities, in terms of healthy results. Walking is easier on the joints than running and can be done pretty much anywhere. All you need is a pair of shoes, boots or ice cleats and the right kind of outerwear for the weather. If you put your minutes into walking, which is the easiest activity for many of us to actually do, you’ll get all the benefits mentioned earlier.

That’s the beauty of making this one change. Physical activity can happen on your own terms when it works best for you. Get your heart pumping and your muscles moving by doing activities you like. Find ways to get as close to 150 minutes a week of movement, because that’s when you’ll start feeling the most benefits. Schedule active time for yourself like you do a meeting. Set up a date with a friend every weekend to catch up and move at the same time. Taking care of yourself is worth it.
It all counts. It all adds up. 

Follow along for a Healthy You in 2022

We’re all ready to feel better in some way. Follow along during the next 12 months as the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shares ways to feel better, body and mind. The department offers and supports many no-cost and low-cost programs that can help. Here is just a sample — all free:

  • Alaska’s Tobacco Quit Line – Ready to quit tobacco or e-cigarettes? You don’t have to do it alone. This service provides a coach to help you quit and free nicotine replacement therapy if needed. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669, text READY to 200-400, or visit alaskaquitline.com.
  • Online program to prevent or manage diabetes – Run through Omada, this program is offered to any eligible adult across the state. You can participate from home, whenever it works best for you.
  • Telephone-based program to prevent diabetes – Run through InquisitHealth, this program is offered to eligible adults statewide. You can participate from home, whenever it works best for you.
  • Online program to manage high blood pressure – Also run through Omada, this program is offered to eligible adults across the state.
  • Careline – Need to talk? Call anytime if you need someone to talk to, if you are in a crisis, you are thinking about suicide, or you’re concerned about someone else. The conversation is confidential and you’ll be treated with respect. Call 1-877-266-4357 or text 4help to 839863 from 3 p.m.–11 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Visit Careline at https://carelinealaska.com.
Now back to physical activity. Here’s one more way for families to be active together.
  • Healthy Futures Challenge – Teachers and families with young kids, get ready for this free physical activity challenge to start Feb. 1, 2022. It’s not too late for teachers and principals to sign up so their schools can participate. The spring challenge will run February through April. Children in grades K–6 at participating schools will win prizes for tracking their activity and getting at least 60 minutes of activity, 15 days each month.  Learn about the challenge online.

Feeling better starts with small steps. You can do this, and we can do this, Alaska! The important thing is to just start moving.

November 04
Here’s one more reason to get out and play at any age: Staying active reduces your chances of having a serious COVID-19 infection

​NOVEMBER 4, 2021 — Staying active makes you stronger. It improves your heart health. Just one session of activity can make you feel less anxious. A new study published this fall shows regular physical activity improves something else that’s critically important given the continuing pandemic in Alaska: It can make a COVID-19 infection less serious.

The study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine focused on almost 50,000 adults who had a COVID-19 infection in 2020. This journal is peer-reviewed, which means the featured research is examined by other experts in the field to ensure it is of high scientific quality prior to publication.  

The new study in this journal showed that those who were consistently active were less likely to have a serious COVID-19 infection. That means adults who met the national physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week were less likely to need hospitalization or die from COVID-19 infections than adults who reported less activity each week. 

Physical activity benefits apply to everyone

One of the most important notes in this study was how strong this connection is between staying active and your body’s ability to fight infectious diseases like COVID-19. This connection between activity and less serious COVID-19 holds no matter:
  • your age,
  • your body weight,
  • whether you smoke, or
  • if you have other health conditions that can increase severe outcomes from COVID-19.

“Regardless of anything else about us, being physically active can improve our body’s ability to fight an infectious disease like COVID-19,” said Karol Fink, manager of Alaska’s Section of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

“That’s a powerful thing to learn from this study, especially because physical activity can be available to most of us at little or no cost. Activity can look any way you want it to look. You can go for a walk, you can hike on trails, or play outside with your friends from school.” 

Strong link between staying active and improving outcomes after infections

Not getting enough physical activity week after week has been linked to increased chances of several ongoing conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and living with an unhealthy body weight. But what about a link between being inactive and outcomes related to shorter-term, infectious diseases like COVID-19?

The new study published this fall identified 48,440 adults who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 between January 1, 2020, and October 21, 2020. These adults had reported to their doctor at least three times during the past two years whether they had been consistently inactive (10 minutes or less of activity each week), doing some amount of activity (between 11–149 minutes of activity each week), or consistently meeting the guidelines of at least 150 minutes of activity each week.

Results showed that getting closer to or meeting the weekly physical activity recommendations reduced your odds of having a serious COVID-19 infection. Adults who were consistently inactive were more than twice as likely to require hospitalization or die from COVID-19 than adults who consistently met the physical activity guidelines.

Play Every Day and Healthy Futures support active Alaska families

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services provides programs and works with partners to make physical activity easier for families.

Play Every Day – For the past 10 years, the Division of Public Health has run this statewide public education campaign to help children grow up at a healthy weight. Campaign messages and related programs support children in getting 60 minutes of daily physical activity (the recommended amount for school-age kids), as well as choosing healthy foods and drinks without added sugar. Find, follow and share these educational messages from Play Every Day on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube at playeverydayak.

Healthy Futures – Play Every Day’s long-time partner is the nonprofit Alaska program called Healthy Futures. Every school year, the program offers a free physical activity challenge for participating elementary schools and students statewide. This fall, about 90 elementary schools are participating, with thousands of Alaska children already turning in monthly logs showing their commitment to 60 minutes of activity many days of the month. Find out if your child’s school is signed up for the fall challenge, which continues through the end of November. The spring Healthy Futures Challenge will begin February 1, 2022.


September 07
Alaska family practicing “Two Healthy Choices” becomes a social media hit

SEPTEMBER 7, 2021 — Jack Foldager of Anchorage has hit the big time in the social media world — over 14,000 followers on his family's TikTok account and 3 million video views by the start of September. Big deal, you think. Well, he’s 4-years-old.

Lots of news media have picked up his story, including CNN. Why? Jack loves eating vegetables straight from the garden.

Toddler Eating Veggies Play Every Day Alaska

Jack’s dad, Trent Foldager, posted a video of Jack in their garden, eating a turnip right out of the ground and spouting nutritional facts about the vegetables surrounding him.

“It was a simple, cute, fun story,” said Trent about why the video went viral. “Jack’s not the only kid who’s taken a vegetable out of the garden and wiped dirt on his pants. People resonated with it.”

Offering little kids like Jack two healthy choices

While some parents have a hard time getting their kids to even try vegetables, Jack eagerly eats them. How did his parents do it?

Jack’s mom, Oksana Foldager, explains: “We cook our meals and sometimes Jack wouldn’t want what we were eating. We started giving him a choice. ‘Do you want broccoli or beans, a radish or a carrot?’ When he makes the choice, he feels like he had a success.”

In the video, Oksana mentions that they practice “Two Healthy Choices” with their kids — a message that the Play Every Day campaign is promoting in a new video this year.

Two Healthy Choices” models a parenting technique that’s often taught to families with toddlers and preschool-age children. Parents want their children to have healthy foods and drinks. Children want to be in charge of their choices. Recognizing that, parents can give them choices, but limit those options to two and make sure both choices are acceptable to the family. By offering two healthy choices, the child feels empowered to make a choice and the parent is happy with it either way.

Play Every Day supports giving children food and drink options that will keep kids healthy. Eating a variety of healthy foods and drinks supports children as they grow, develop and learn. Healthy options also help protect children from diseases that occur later in life, like diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein give children more energy to play every day, too.

Giving children two healthy choices can help them build confidence and make better decisions about their food choices as they grow up.

“It’s our responsibility as parents to set them up for a healthy future,” Oksana said.

Kids can be picky. Just keep trying.

Gardening and a favorite book about eating plants have helped spur Jack’s love of vegetables, but there are other ways to get kids more involved with the food they are eating. The Foldagers also take Jack to the local farmers market and grocery store. Jack helps pick the produce the family will eat for the week.

“Kids naturally gravitate towards colorful foods,” Trent said. Involving young kids in picking out groceries, helping prepare food and choosing what to eat can make it easier to get them to eat healthy foods.

Jack is still a typical young child with those finicky eating habits that can drive parents crazy.

“He might eat cabbage one week and then kale the next,” said Trent. “We don’t always know what he’s going to want to eat, so we try different things.”

Oksana recommends that parents be patient when it comes to food for their kids.

“Incorporate variety, try new things. All kids can be picky. You just have to keep trying,” she said.

The Foldagers don’t limit their children to healthy food only, but they’ve found that Jack often gravitates toward healthier choices on his own. Recently, they took the family to the Alaska State Fair and bought crab cakes and fries. Jack didn’t want that. Jack had his eye on the carrots at the farmers market stand.

Foldager family Anchorage Play Every Day Two Choices 

Photographs courtesy of Foldager family

Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy foods and drinks. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/playeverydayak or www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.

August 24
Get ready for the Healthy Futures Challenge: Ten years of partnership helps thousands of kids stay active

AUGUST 24, 2021 — A lot of Alaska kids have challenged themselves to get out and play during the past 10 years: Tens of thousands of kids.

Boy running in Unalakleet Alaska Healthy Futures Challenge

Play Every Day and the Healthy Futures program began working together in 2011. The Play Every Day communication campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services was brand new at that time. The staff running it wanted to offer a free program that helped children get closer to the daily recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity — or play every day. It turns out, that program already existed in a nonprofit Alaska-based organization called Healthy Futures.

Still in its early years, Healthy Futures was small, but growing. During the 2003-04 school year, the program offered a free physical activity challenge in about 30 elementary schools. About 2,300 students participated in this early challenge, tracking their daily physical activity. By 2011, 35 schools had signed up to participate. The short-term goal for students was turning in a completed physical activity log for prizes. The long-term goal was — and still is — building the daily healthy habit of physical activity for a lifetime.

Fast forward 10 years to 2021. The Fall Healthy Futures Challenge will begin Sept. 1, 2021, through a continued partnership between Play Every Day and Healthy Futures. This Healthy Futures Challenge is a three-month challenge that takes place each spring and fall for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Participating elementary-age students will keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. They can count active time in gym class and during recess.

More schools, students participate over the decade

Over the past 10 years, participation in this challenge multiplied, both among schools and students. By fall 2016, 175 elementary schools across the state registered to participate. About 15,000 individual students tracked their activity and turned in logs. Since then, more than 100 elementary schools signed up during most challenge periods in school districts that serve large communities like Anchorage and Fairbanks and small ones like Aniak, Utqiagvik and Petersburg.

During the 2020-21 school year — taught entirely during the pandemic — almost 100 schools found ways to keep participating, even though students were learning at home during some or most of that year.

“We learned over this past 18 months that our program provides value, no matter what mode of education a school is using,” said Harlow Robinson, executive director for Healthy Futures. “Pandemic or not, children benefit from learning to build lifetime habits around being physically active. Regardless of what the future has in store, Healthy Futures and our great partners will be dedicated to helping Alaska kids make activity a fun, healthy part of every day.”

Sign up for the free physical activity challenge

Over the years, Healthy Futures has continued to offer the challenge for free to schools and students. That’s due to multiple partnerships, including teachers in participating schools who volunteer their time to collect activity logs and hand out prizes to students who meet their activity goals.

Students earn monthly incentives for successfully completing an activity log, and one student from each participating school will be selected to win a grand prize at the end of the school year. Choices for grand prizes have included active games, like Spikeball and Cornhole. Students who complete more months of the challenge will have increased chances of winning a grand prize. Participating schools can earn gym banners for high participation rates and longevity with the program.

Is your child’s school signed up for the Fall Healthy Futures Challenge? It’s not too late for schools to sign up online, making the challenge available to more students across Alaska. To find out more about the Healthy Futures Challenge or to sign up your school or home school program, contact Healthy Futures Coordinator Matias Saari at matias@healthyfuturesak.org. Support your child to get out and play this year.

I play every day Healthy Futures Challenge 

Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy foods and drinks. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/playeverydayak or www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.

August 03
Your kids want choices, so give them two healthy ones when it comes to foods and drinks

AUGUST 3, 2021 — Busy parents want to serve their children healthy options — quick and easy.

Little children want to be in charge.

Two Choices for Healthy Foods and Drinks in Alaska Play Every Day PSA

Play Every Day’s new messages focus on helping parents and children get what they both want when it comes to healthy foods and drinks. A new message shared this week models a parenting technique that’s often taught to families with toddlers and preschool-age children. Children want to be in charge of their choices. Recognizing that, parents can give them choices, but limit those options to two and make sure both choices are acceptable to the family. That way, the child feels empowered to make a choice and the parent is happy with it either way.

“Our new message uses this technique with serving food and drinks,” said Diane Peck, registered dietitian with Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “The parent offers two choices to the little child, both of them healthy. The child can have unsweetened applesauce or a little orange, whole grain crackers or cheese, water or milk. Serving kids grab-and-go options can be quick and easy, and this message shows there are a lot of options that don’t have added sugar.”

This new message will be shared along with Play Every Day’s other new 30-second video showing little kids eating the healthy options they're offered — no added sugar needed. Play Every Day supports giving children food and drink options that will keep kids healthy. Eating a variety of healthy foods and drinks supports children as they grow, develop and learn. Healthy options also help protect children from diseases that occur later in life, like diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein give children more energy to play every day, too.

Giving two healthy choices to children

The technique of giving two choices to children can help them build confidence and make better decisions about their food choices as they grow up. Many young children enjoy being involved in picking out groceries, helping prepare food and choosing what to eat. Children are learning all about control and autonomy during the toddler and preschool years. Involving little kids in deciding what they want to eat can make incorporating these healthy choices into their diets much easier, Peck said.

“Keeping healthy snacks at home and having them ready to take with you wherever you go makes offering healthy choices easier,” Peck said. “Unsweetened yogurt with berries, a small box of raisins or diced dried fruit, apple and orange slices, raw veggies like baby carrots or snap peas, small bags of unsweetened whole-grain dry cereal, and hardboiled eggs are delicious and easy options to offer your children. Pack a water bottle so you have a healthy drink to give a thirsty child.”

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And again.

Sometimes little kids like unsweetened foods right away. This summer, we filmed little kids who happily ate unsweetened yogurt, broccoli, oat cereal and fish. They drank plain milk and water. Some kids need to try these foods and drinks more than once, maybe many times, before they’re interested in eating them regularly.

If you’re having a hard time getting children to eat new and healthy foods, you’re not alone. The American Academy of Pediatrics shares tips for helping toddlers choose healthy foods and drinks. It’s common for kids to be stubborn about trying new foods. They may repeatedly ask for unhealthy snacks like cookies and sugary fruit drinks. Don’t worry too much if that happens, Peck said. Instead of offering sweetened options, keep encouraging children by offering new healthy foods and drinks many times.

Repeated exposure to new foods can include merely seeing a new food on the table, helping prepare the food, or trying a small bite. It may take 10 or more times of seeing a new food before a child is willing to try it. Continue to offer healthy foods to your child with a positive attitude. These frequent exposures can help encourage children to eat healthier for a lifetime.

Choosing healthy doesn’t have to be hard

When you’re in a hurry, you’re looking for convenient options. Grab-and-go doesn’t have to mean heading to a drive-through restaurant and doesn’t require packaged food with added sugar. Added sugars are sugars that are added during food processing, not sugars that occur naturally in foods like whole fruits.

Families with hectic schedules can use several strategies to serve their children healthy, convenient options. Keeping healthier choices in your fridge and pantry means there are better snack choices when you need them. Buying healthier packaged snacks without added sugar or making your own small bags of healthy snacks can make it more convenient to eat when time is short. You can pack small bags of whole wheat crackers and small single servings of cheese. Older kids can eat string cheese. Families can find yogurts and pouches of pureed fruits and vegetables that are easy to carry in a backpack and come with no added sugar. Check the Nutrition Facts label and choose options without sweeteners. You’ll know that’s the case if the “Includes Added Sugars” line under “Total Carbohydrates” says 0 grams. It is easy for processed foods and drinks to hide added sugar, making it important to keep checking nutrition labels.

Find and share Play Every Day materials

Play Every Day will be sharing more of its new messages for families in the coming months on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and playeveryday.alaska.gov. The webpage housed on the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website is currently unavailable, but repairs are underway. Email playeveryday@alaska.gov to request print and other materials to share in schools, preschools, child care centers, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, and other locations.

Healthy Food and Drinks Options Alaska Play Every Day PSAs 

Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy foods and drinks. For more information, visit www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.

July 27
Play Every Day shares new messages: Little kids will try healthy options when they’re offered — no added sugar needed

JULY 27, 2021 — For the past decade, Alaskans have watched the Play Every Day campaign create new messages with younger kids. We’re still focused on supporting children to get daily activity and choose healthy foods and drinks, but we’re trying to start those habits earlier.

This summer, we invited a handful of families from Anchorage to Wasilla to work with us and create new messages. Moms and dads sat their little kids — no more than 8 months to 24 months old — in a highchair. Then they put plain, unsweetened yogurt in front of them. And we waited.

Toddler eating plain yogurt

An 8-month-old boy grabbed a container full of yogurt and waved it around. He dug his fist into the yogurt and crammed it into his mouth. Another toddler grabbed a spoonful of yogurt and ate it, too, along with broccoli and unsweetened oat cereal.

It turns out little kids would eat the healthy options they were offered. No added sugar was needed.

And that’s the message shared in Play Every Day’s new 30-second video: It matters what we serve our kids during the early years. The flavors and variety of foods given to toddlers can influence the type of foods they’ll choose and enjoy later in life. Research shows that increasing the number of times you serve unsweetened, unsalted foods and drinks can decrease your child’s preference for sweet and salty options as they grow up. Reducing added sugar also lowers their chances for developing serious health problems later, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Added sugars are sugars that are added during food processing, not sugars that occur naturally in foods like whole fruits.

“Kids often surprise their parents,” said Diane Peck, registered dietitian with Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program that runs Play Every Day. “Parents may worry children won’t like foods and drinks if they’re not sweetened or packaged in labels that show fun colors or cartoon characters. Little kids enjoy many unsweetened foods and drinks right away. And even if they don’t like them at first, it’s worth giving it another shot. Keep trying to serve these unsweetened options to your kids, because chances are they’ll eventually eat and drink them.”

The value of starting early

Toddler eating broccoli

Diseases developed over a lifetime can often be prevented in childhood. That includes chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and other conditions that go on for a long time and often don’t go away completely. Choosing foods without added sugars and serving water or plain milk to children when they are little can help protect them from developing these diseases many years later.

Play Every Day’s new messages support a new recommendation from the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to cut out all added sugars in foods and drinks for toddlers under the age of 2. Young children eat such small quantities of food, so every bite matters. Establishing healthy eating habits between birth and age 2 supports brain development and growth in young children. Healthy eating means offering many different types of foods rich in vitamins and minerals and delaying sweet foods and drinks. It’s also important to wait to offer solids or liquids other than human milk or infant formula until children are about 6 months of age or developmentally ready to begin to eat solid foods.

Healthy foods for toddlers include whole grains like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and whole-grain crackers; fruits and vegetables; lean meats and dairy; and a small amount of healthy fats, such as avocados and olive oil.

“The early years are all about taking the taste buds for a test drive,” Peck said. “Parents can introduce their little kids to a wide variety of healthy foods when they are ready to try them. What’s served early on often becomes a habit, and those early habits pay off later to prevent diseases that can develop over a lifetime.”

Added sugar sneaks into foods and drinks marketed for toddlers

Families know that cake and cookies have a lot of sugar. Many other foods and drinks marketed for children can hide a large amount of added sugar, including cereals, flavored milk, sweetened yogurt and some (but not all) grab-and-go purees of fruits and vegetables.

Serving only water, plain cow’s milk and unsweetened, fortified soy milk is a great way to start cutting out added sugar. Consuming sugary drinks before age 2 can increase children’s chances of drinking more sugary beverages later in life, which then increases their chances for related long-term diseases and cavities. Soda comes to mind quickly as a sugary drink, but other sweet drinks are marketed to children. Those include sports drinks, powdered drink mixes, vitamin-enhanced waters, fruit drinks and punch. What looks like 100% fruit juice often isn’t. A drink can have a fruit in the name or a fruit pictured on the label and have very little or no fruit juice. Flavored milk, like chocolate milk, adds teaspoons of sugar to plain cow’s, soy or other plant-based milks. Then there’s a newer drink called toddler milk or toddler formula, which often includes added sugar that little kids don’t need.

How to spot and avoid added sugar by looking at the label

Little girl holding fruit and vegetable puree

Families can look at the Nutrition Facts label on foods and drinks to make sure they’re choosing options with no added sugar. Sugar can go by many names, including sucrose, honey, corn syrup and more. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires added sugars to be listed in a special line under “Total Carbohydrate.” Look for this line that says “Includes Added Sugars.” A food or drink has no added sugar if this line says “0 grams.”

Some foods are sold with and without added sugar. The yogurt that the toddlers ate during filming of Play Every Day’s new message was plain yogurt with no added sugar. Families can find that yogurt in large tubs or small portable containers. If children are old enough to eat berries, families can add blueberries or another fruit to naturally sweeten the yogurt without adding honey or other types of sugar.

Packaging can be tricky for pureed fruits and vegetables that are sold in pouches, tubes or small containers. These are very convenient for families on the go, but they can include added sugar. Fruit and vegetable pouches, such as unsweetened applesauce, are available with no added sugar and are a healthy option for little children.

Find and share Play Every Day materials

Play Every Day will be sharing more of its new messages for families in the coming months on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and playeveryday.alaska.gov. The webpage housed on the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website is currently unavailable, but repairs are underway. Email playeveryday@alaska.gov to request print and other materials to share in schools, preschools, child care centers, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, and other locations.

Healthy food and drink options for toddlers  

Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy foods and drinks. For more information, visit www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.

June 18
Families can eat more fruits and vegetables this summer thanks to the Alaska health department

JUNE 18 , 2021 — Even in the best of times, it can be challenging for Alaskans to buy fruits and vegetables to feed their families. The cost may be too high, especially in rural Alaska communities. This year, the pandemic made buying healthy food even harder for many families who lost jobs or faced reduced work hours.

This summer, Alaska’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is offering and expanding many programs to make it easier to buy fruits and vegetables. WIC serves pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as new mothers, dads, grandparents, foster parents, and working families with babies and children up to age 5. Their programs provide nutrition and breastfeeding education, referrals to needed services, and benefits to buy nutritious foods.

WIC families can eat more fruits and vegetables this summer

Little Girl Snap Peas Play Every Day

Alaska families enrolled in WIC can eat more fruits and vegetables thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act, also called the federal COVID-19 stimulus package. Benefits will be increasing for each mother and child enrolled in WIC between June through September to buy fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables at over 160 participating stores across the state.

“We’re excited for the increase in funds for fruits and vegetables because they contain so many vitamins, nutrients and fiber,” said Jennifer Johnson, a registered dietitian and Alaska WIC Nutrition Coordinator. “Also, the fruits and vegetables don’t need to be fresh. Frozen and canned are just as healthy.”

The Alaska WIC program has been working hard this past year helping parents who are having a difficult time providing healthy food for their families. Enrolling has never been easier. Some application requirements have been waived. Families no longer need to come into the WIC office in person to apply. Applying and enrolling can now be done over the phone. No matter where you live in Alaska, WIC can come to you. Even in areas with low access to grocery stores, WIC participants can go online or place an order over the phone and have foods mailed directly to them.

“A personal recommendation from a friend or provider to use WIC services can really go a long way,” said Taryn Bliss, registered dietitian and the Alaska WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator. “When you participate in WIC or tell others about WIC services, you’re showing the need for healthy foods and resources for your neighbor and yourself and showing how much Alaskans value these services for their community.”

Check out the prescreening tool today to see if you qualify for WIC services. You can call the WIC clinic nearest you to apply. To find a nearby location, enter your zip code on the WIC sign-up page. Note that the Department of Health and Social Services website is unavailable at this time. Department staff are working to get the website back online. In the meantime, WIC is best reached by telephone at (907) 465-3100.

Alaska families can find help through additional food programs

WIC Farmers Market Program

In some Alaska communities this summer, each WIC participant may be able to receive an additional benefit to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs from local Alaska farmers. They can use these funds at certain farmers markets with participating farmers who are approved for this program. See which markets and farmers are participating here. The WIC Farmers Market Program operates in Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, Fairbanks, North Pole, Kenai, Soldotna, Sterling, Kasilof, Homer, Haines, Juneau, Sitka and Petersburg.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The Alaska SNAP program provides food assistance to eligible Alaska residents. SNAP benefits can be used to buy food from eligible stores statewide and participating farmers markets. The online application can be downloaded here, is available at public assistance offices, and can be mailed to you if requested. An electronic application is not currently available. You can email (hss.dpa.offices@alaska.gov) your application or mail, fax, or drop it off at any public assistance office when completed. Individuals who need assistance with their application or have questions can call the Division of Public Assistance’s Virtual Contact Center at 1-800-478-7778.

SNAP COVID-19 Emergency Allotments

Through emergency allotments, SNAP households will receive the maximum allowable benefit for their household size regardless of the income being counted. Individuals do not need to apply for emergency allotments. They will automatically be made available on recipient cards.

Expanded options at local stores

The Food Bank of Alaska and the Municipality of Anchorage are sponsoring SNAP produce vouchers at Carrs–Safeway stores. SNAP recipients shopping at Carrs–Safeway stores in Anchorage, Eagle River and Girdwood who spend $10 on fresh produce will receive vouchers at the bottom of their receipt for another $10 of produce to use on their next shopping trip. These vouchers don’t expire until July 31, 2021.

Additional help

Dial 2-1-1 or 1-800-478-2221 for a variety of resources and support including food and shelter, child care, and more. Sometimes it can be easier to ask questions over the phone than looking online. Alaskans who need food will find food banks and pantries across the state. Click here to find a pantry that’s open today.

WIC Benefits Graphic Play Every Day 

Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy drinks. For more information, visit www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.

June 16
Kids should plan for an awesome, active summer outdoors

JUNE 16, 2021 — Summer break for an Alaska kid looks much more fun than it did a year ago.

Children spent the past 12 months creating new ways to learn and keep seeing friends. Early in the pandemic, they organized drive-by parties to celebrate a birthday. They kept playing together outside — wearing masks and giving each other some space. They hopped on Zoom meetings to stay connected virtually.

When the pandemic started, families had to consider the terrible tradeoffs, said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer: If kids chose to play with friends, could they get each other sick, and then unintentionally pass the virus to their mom, dad or grandparent? This summer, many moms, dads and grandparents are protected from Covid-19 with the vaccine. Now, those who remain unvaccinated are mainly younger Alaskans, including kids 11 and younger who likely won’t be eligible for vaccines until fall. Most children do not get very sick from Covid-19, Zink said.

Making the most of this summer is critical, said Zink.

Anchorage roller skating girls Play Every Day

“Supporting our kids to eat well, be physically active and play with other children is critically important to their health and development,” she said.

Zink said there are two ingredients that make activities safer this summer: vaccination plus being outside. When one or both of these isn’t possible — such as young kids not being eligible for vaccines — then families can make adjustments to stay active in the safest ways.

The great news about Alaska’s response is that the statewide numbers of Covid-19 cases are very low. Continue to monitor the Covid-19 trends in your communities. Follow state and local guidance, which may differ one community to the next. Consider extra steps your family may need to take to protect others in the household. Have patience with each other and be kind, Zink said.

While masks are no longer required in many places, you will still see them being worn in public. That mask may make some people feel safer, Zink said. They might have a health reason for wearing it, or they are trying to protect a family member who’s not fully vaccinated or has a compromised immunity.

“If you are not feeling well, if you are unvaccinated or live with someone who has a compromised immunity— masks work,” Zink said.

Zink and Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen, public health physician with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, answered questions to help families encourage their young kids to keep playing and see friends this summer.

What play looks like for kids this summer

What does physical activity look like for kids 12 and older who are fully vaccinated?

Zink said this summer looks awesome for older kids. She says all options are open for fully vaccinated children, without wearing masks or needing to keep distance. Full vaccination allows them to play sports and do other activities, indoors or outdoors. They no longer need to quarantine after being exposed to a teammate or friend who has Covid-19, Ohlsen said.

Zink talked about her 16-year-old daughter returning to the activity she loves. Her daughter is fully vaccinated and participates in running club without a mask.

“Go run. Don’t worry about how close you are to people,” Zink told her daughter. “Have a great time.”

What does play and physical activity look like this summer for Alaska kids 11 and younger?

Little kid biking helmet Play Every Day

“It’s outside, and it’s awesome,” Zink said. “For those 11 and younger — particularly if they are in a fully vaccinated family — I wouldn’t worry so much about distancing at the park and the playground.”

The Covid-19 virus passes mainly through the air we are breathing, not by touching surfaces that others have touched.

“Wiping down playground equipment isn’t something that’s recommended anymore,” Ohlsen said.

Zink encouraged kids to keep washing their hands before and after playing. Families also shouldn’t have kids play with each other if they have been feeling sick. Otherwise, Zink gave her doctor’s orders: Have a really fun summer. Get out and play, pick berries, fish, hike, run, and ride bikes while wearing a helmet.

Wearing masks outside is the family’s choice, Zink said. Kids playing outside are much less likely to spread Covid-19 than if they played inside, but a mask provides good protection for those who cannot be vaccinated, like young children. If your kids will be playing near others, then parents can consider having their children wear masks— even outside, Zink said. Some kids prefer wearing masks outside because they worry less about keeping distance from others, she said. Parents may choose to put a mask on a child who faces higher chances of a serious illness from Covid-19.

What about indoor play dates that include children 11 and younger from different households?

Indoor visits can be safer if young children are wearing masks while playing. According to the updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) summer camp guidance, “mask use indoors is strongly encouraged for people who are not fully vaccinated including children.” The guidance also states no child under the age of 2 should wear a mask.

Zink said parents also should consider who lives inside the home. Adults are more likely to spread Covid-19 to children than children spreading the virus to adults, she said.

Sports and camps for kids who are unvaccinated

What are some considerations for kids 11 and younger playing soccer and other sports?

Soccer Knee Anchorage Play Every Day

Have an awesome time, but don’t share water bottles, Zink said.

Ohlsen recommended masks for kids playing indoor soccer. This follows the CDC summer camp guidance regarding mask wearing.

Masks wouldn’t be needed during outdoor soccer while the children were playing and running around. Ohlsen said children should have masks ready to put on during huddles and on the sidelines when they have sustained close contact with others and can’t stay at least 6 feet apart.

You are going on a hike with your family and you pass others. What should you do?

Say ‘Hi,’ Zink said. You’re outside, so it’s lower risk and masks aren’t needed for kids.

Are masks needed for outdoor, summer day camps attended by children 11 and younger?

Zink encouraged parents to send kids with a mask in their pocket, ready to use if they need to go inside for any reason or if they will be playing close to other kids. Check the camp’s rules, however, so your family can follow the guidance set by each.

What about indoor day camps?

Follow camp guidelines and consider having your child wear a mask. Pack extra masks in case one gets wet, Zink said.

How about overnight camps?

This is a harder question, Zink said, especially if the camp is attended by unvaccinated children. The CDC updated its online guidance related to day and overnight camps. Camps with any campers or staff who are not fully vaccinated should use multiple strategies to protect people who are not vaccinated. One strategy is assigning campers to small groups to reduce the chance of spreading Covid-19 from group to group.

Another strategy involves wearing masks. The CDC said it strongly encourages people who are not fully vaccinated, including children ages 2 and older, to wear masks while indoors. The CDC said, in general, people do not need to wear masks outside. The guidance does recommend that people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated. This is particularly important in communities with high transmission of Covid-19.

The CDC said camp directors can choose to require mask-wearing and other strategies, so be sure to check the specific guidance for your child’s camp. The federal health agency also encouraged people to support campers or staff members who choose to wear a mask, even if they are fully vaccinated.

More information for attending camps can be found at this CDC website.

How can you navigate the summer with a partially vaccinated family?

Many families are partially or mostly vaccinated, but have one or two children who are healthy overall and aren’t eligible yet to be vaccinated due to age. What steps could vaccinated family members take to protect unvaccinated children?

Zink said her family had a special discussion about this topic. This discussion will look different across families and will depend on how they balance risks and benefits.

“The vaccine is amazing at preventing me from getting really sick,” Zink said, “and it does reduce the chance that I will spread it to my unvaccinated kids in my household. But it’s not zero.”

Zink’s family decided to limit some activities until all her kids could be fully vaccinated. Zink said she is looking forward to celebrating her family’s full vaccination by eating together at a restaurant.

Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy drinks. For more information, visit www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.

May 06
Growing like a weed: Healthy ways to feed children a plant-based diet

MAY 6, 2021 —​ Your 11-year-old son announces that he’s not eating meat from animals anymore. Is that OK for a growing child?

You have been following a vegetarian diet for several years and now wonder if that will be safe for your 1-year-old.

iStock-1083417790.jpg“A vegetarian diet can absolutely be safe for kids if it is not overly restrictive and healthy alternatives are provided,” said Lea Palmer, registered dietitian and Food Service Lead for Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc. (RurAL CAP) Head Start Program. Many health professionals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree. 

At any age, eating less meat and high-fat dairy foods can lead to consuming less unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol and more healthy fruits, vegetables and fiber. That helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces chances for developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers. Eating more plant foods has also been shown to boost mood and mental well-being.

What does plant-based mean?

“Plant-based” and “plant-forward” are popular terms right now that mean a diet that contains mostly plant foods. Plant foods include fruits, vegetables, grains, dried beans and lentils (also known as legumes), nuts and seeds. Plant-based and vegetarian diets have become so common in recent years that it’s now easy to find vegetarian meals at restaurants and meat alternatives, like veggie “burgers,” in grocery stores.  

There are different types of plant-based diets. A flexible diet may be mostly plant foods but includes small amounts of meat, chicken or fish. Some vegetarians don’t eat meat, but do eat eggs and dairy products, like milk, yogurt and cheese. A strict vegan eats plant foods only.  

There is no one way or right way to follow a plant-based diet. These diets don’t have to be “all or nothing.” Eating no animal foods doesn’t automatically mean “healthy.” 

“Just like any way of eating, there are definitely ways to make a vegetarian diet unhealthy,” said Palmer. “By paying special attention to providing substitutions instead of just eliminating meat, and choosing a variety of whole, healthy foods, a plant-based diet can be a part of a very healthy lifestyle for a child.”   

Foods to focus on for plant-based kids

Kids eating a plant-based diet need to eat more foods that are high in vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc and calcium.  Most of these nutrients are found in dairy products and eggs. Fortified products — such as cereals, breads, soy milk and orange juice — can provide these nutrients for kids who don’t eat any animal products.  

Plant foods also contain these nutrients. Dried beans and lentils are a good source of iron, zinc and calcium. Dark green leafy vegetables — such as kale, spinach and broccoli — are a good source of calcium and iron. Iron can be found in dried fruits (especially dried apricots), edamame (soybeans) and tofu. Zinc can be found in wheat germ, oatmeal, nuts and pumpkin seeds. Some mushrooms have vitamin D.  

Will my child get enough protein?

21-PAN-0275-Soy Milk-1B-GS.jpg“Healthy protein foods are very important for growth, and can be found in plant-based foods, such whole grains, dried beans, edamame and nuts,” Palmer said. Most vegetarians can meet their protein needs by eating a variety of plant proteins and getting enough calories. 

Plant milks can be a good source of protein, but not all plant milks are nutritionally equal. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend fortified soy milk as the only substitute for cow’s milk. Other plant milks — such as those made from oats, rice or almonds — don’t have the same protein and nutrients as cow’s milk. Fortified soy milk can be started at age 1. “Toddler milks” or toddler formula often contain added sugar and fats. These are not recommended for children.

Many kinds of meat alternatives are available, so plant-based kids can have their veggie burgers and hot dogs, too. Many schools are including these items, and other vegetarian options, on their menus.

Soy foods — such as tofu, edamame, and textured vegetable protein (TVP) — contain a plant-based hormone like estrogen. While soy foods are part of a healthy diet, studies of soy consumption among children is limited and more research is recommended. Plant-based families should aim for variety, mixing soy foods with other protein sources. The Dietary Guidelines recommend eating an assortment of soy foods and limiting them to 4–9 ounces​ per week to ensure kids are meeting their nutrient needs. 

Talk with your pediatrician, health care provider or a registered dietitian if you have any questions or concerns about your children's diet or growth, soy foods, or if you think they need to take a supplement. 

Ideas for plant-based meals

Plant-based meals don’t have to be fancy or complicated. When there’s meat on the table, include a heat-and-eat meat alternative, like a veggie burger, for your vegetarian. Support your plant-based kids by having some meatless meals for the whole family. Try new plant-based foods together. Eating more plants is healthy for everyone.

“Many family favorite recipes can be modified to become vegetarian by substituting the meat for ground tofu, beans, or nut or seed butter,” said Palmer. 

Breakfast

  • Hot or cold whole-grain cereal with fortified soy milk, nuts and dried fruit
  • Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and banana slices. Try other nut butters, like almond or sunflower.
  • Smoothies made with soy milk or soft tofu, and frozen fruit.

Lunch

  • Minestrone soup with baked sweet potato fries 
  • Pita bread stuffed with hummus and raw veggies
  • Fresh, frozen or canned fruit 

Dinner

  • A salad with a baked potato topped with no-meat chili 
  • Pasta with tomato sauce and chopped mushrooms, along with steamed broccoli
  • Whole-wheat tortilla stuffed with black beans, brown rice and salsa. Add regular cheese or vegan cheese if desired. For a more nutritional punch, include grilled veggies like zucchini, onions, peppers and cauliflower.
  • Fresh, frozen or canned fruit 

Snacks

  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Fortified soy yogurt with fresh berries
  • Whole-grain crackers and fortified soy milk

There are lots of kid-friendly plant-based and vegetarian recipes and cookbooks available online. Start with the USDA Eating Vegetarian website for more resources and recipes. Go to the Fruits and Veggies website for recipes, nutrition, storage and handling information on a variety of fruits and vegetables. 

The Dietary Guidelines​ (pages 147 and 148) show healthy vegetarian recommendations for different calorie levels and include recommendations for toddlers ages 12 months through 23 months. These guidelines are designed to meet nutrient needs while not going over the recommended amounts for calories, added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.


​​
1 - 10Next