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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.


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 3, 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.

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.


​​
April 19
Play Every Day campaign messages shared beyond Alaska, reaching families nationally and internationally

APRIL 19, 2021 — Over the past 10 years, the state’s Play Every Day campaign has been sharing health messages with thousands of Alaska families. Parents have seen posters about daily physical activity at their children’s schools and child care centers. They’ve flipped through guides about choosing healthy drinks at dentists’ offices. They’ve seen short videos while waiting at doctors’ offices and using social media. 

Play-Every-Day-Drink-Milk-Poster-8.5_x11_.jpgFamilies living thousands of miles from Alaska are now seeing these messages, too. Other states and countries have asked to share them, and Play Every Day staff have made it even easier to do so.  The campaign’s most recent videos, several posters and educational handouts are now added to the State and Community Health Media Center​, managed through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This national library makes health-focused video, radio, print, social media and online messages available at no or low cost. The additions include this short video about the large amount of sugar hiding in fruit drinks, another short video about parents as role models choosing healthy drinks, this handout and posters

“Our Physical Activity and Nutrition Program in Alaska is committed to running a public education campaign that supports all of the work we do to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight,” said Ann Potempa, communications director for the campaign. “We make sure we’re listening to Alaska families as we create our materials. We strive to reach these families wherever they are — in cities to very small villages — and on whatever forms of communication they use. We want to share these messages with other health departments that are striving to help families in their communities, but may not have enough resources or staff to do it. The CDC Health Media Center provides a great way to share our work with as many people as possible.”

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services joins other state and local health departments, nonprofit organizations and federal agencies to create all the materials included in the media center. The center’s materials focus on promoting physical activity, nutrition, emotional wellness and more. They also emphasize the importance of preventing ongoing chronic diseases that can last a lifetime, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. 

Sharing materials helps more families receive messages to improve health

20-PAN-0626 Magic PSA Social Posts 1A-LG10.jpgCDC’s State and Community Health Media Center makes finding, choosing and using materials easy and cost-effective. Interested organizations can search by topic, name of health department that created the materials, type of message (video or print, for example), and more. 

The media center prioritizes materials that have been tested with audiences. Play Every Day’s most recent materials that are included in the library focus on choosing healthy drinks instead of sugary drinks. Play Every Day tested these messages with Alaska parents of young children before producing and sharing them. Campaign staff created messages that parents considered the most meaningful and motivating. During a three-year period of consistently sharing Play Every Day messages, a series of surveys completed by thousands of Alaska parents showed a significant decrease in families serving sugary drinks during the past week and in increase in serving water.  

Reaching families across the world

Play Every Day’s success in reaching Alaska families to improve health behaviors attracted the attention of global public health organization Vital Strategies​. The organization’s partners in Jamaica and Barbados asked Play Every Day staff for permission to re-create the campaign’s short public service announcement (PSA) linking sugary drinks to tooth decay. The Heart Foundation of Jamaica tested the Play Every Day campaign’s “Tooth Decay” PSA with the Jamaica audience. The PSA tested well, reinforcing the messaging that sugar adds up and leads to serious health consequences.

“Decades of industry marketing and promotions have enticed consumers to drink sodas and similar sugary beverages. Our campaigns face a significant challenge — changing these long-established positive attitudes towards sugary drinks,” said Sandra Mullin, senior vice president of policy, advocacy and communication at Vital Strategies. “The Play Every Day campaign tells a powerful story presenting a simple and clear message that resonated with our audience.”

The Heart Foundation of Jamaica selected and adapted Play Every Day’s “Tooth Decay” concept for its “Are Our Children Drinking Themselves Sick?” campaign, which launched in fall 2018. In 2019, the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados adapted the Play Every Day PSA for the launch of its “Switch It Up” campaign. The post-campaign evaluation conducted in Jamaica in early 2019 revealed that more than 6 out of 10 Jamaica respondents remembered the PSA. Nine out of 10 (96%) respondents supported public education campaigns like these.

Find free Play Every Day materials online

You can find all of Play Every Day’s messages available at no cost on its website. Visit this webpage to find current and past messages focused on cutting back on sugary drinks and choosing water or milk instead. Visit this webpage for current and past messages focused on getting daily physical activity and participating in the Healthy Futures Challenge, which is a free, school-based physical activity challenge for elementary-age children in Alaska. Find Play Every Day’s materials on the CDC State and Community Health Media Center online​


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April 02
Reflecting on a year like no other: PE teachers invented ways to teach skills and keep kids moving during the most challenging times

​APRIL 2, 2021 — A year like this gives plenty of opportunities for reflection. On the first day of school, hundreds of Alaska physical education teachers faced a challenge no one would have anticipated a year before: The subject they’re passionate about would have to look entirely different during a pandemic than it did in a typical year — with big gyms and equipment for everyone — if it could be taught at all. 

PE specialists in Alaska know this year didn’t provide the best way to teach children physical education. They recognize that a child’s access to PE varied across the state and school by school — from receiving no or little physical education to having a full-time PE teacher. Getting kids to move using a computer wasn’t always easy, and moving in person at open schools also required new rules and limitations. 

April2021_WillowCrest_PE-Blog.png“We didn’t give up what we know the kids need,” said Melanie Sutton from the Anchorage School District. That’s learning physical education, nutrition and overall health along with other core subjects like math and reading, said Sutton, the district's health and PE curriculum coordinator.

Not giving up meant PE teachers invented new ways to move and found pockets of time in the day — sometimes before or after school — to make sure those opportunities were available. 

In Fairbanks, PE teacher Kayla Clark knew her elementary school would start the school year with learning from home, like Anchorage schools did. She began recording PE videos that students could do at home.

In Anchorage, Natalie Washington learned that she and many PE teachers would be general teachers first, and then see how, or if, physical education could be added in during the school day.

In Wasilla, Nancy Blake at Goose Bay Elementary spent the end of summer on hands and knees, painting an outdoor gym space that looked just like her school’s indoor gym. Kids would come back in person there, but they’d need to move differently with plenty of space and masks.

First Quarter 

Sutton is a former PE teacher and now works with more than 140 health and PE teachers in Anchorage. Sutton calls PE and health teachers the glue that holds a school together. In a given week, they teach every student in the building. They know every child’s name, every child’s family. 

So when specialists in the school — PE, health, music and art — started first quarter in Anchorage as generalists supporting classroom teachers, Sutton said PE teachers were primed for the pivot. 

“They were really ideally positioned to connect with those kids in a new way,” she said.

PE teachers retrained themselves. They learned how to support math, language arts, science and more. 

“They had to learn a whole new career at the same time they were delivering it,” Sutton said.

April2021_KaiaW_PE-Blog.pngWhat that looked like was long days, packing in support for the whole school while still finding unique ways to keep offering PE. Rogers Park Elementary PE teacher Ben Elbow started every day of first and second quarter by running a special PE Zoom session before school even started. Elbow, Washington at Taku Elementary, Jason Payne at Homestead Elementary, and other Anchorage PE teachers set up cameras in their garages and living rooms to provide extra remote PE classes on top of supporting classroom teachers. Washington joined Payne and two other elementary PE teachers to record more than 200 slideshows this year to teach movement skills to students learning from home. Payne, president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators, Alaska, said the organization provided Zoom sessions twice monthly to teachers throughout Alaska to share health and PE resources and ideas. The group launched a new website to improve access to these resources across the state. The Alaska Departments of Health and Social Services and Education and Early Development supported the group’s efforts through grant funding. 

Making this shift from PE specialist to providing more general support was critical to help all students this year, but it still felt like a loss to some. PE teachers had spent their careers training in a subject they believed in wholeheartedly. Not every child will play a sport, and sports teams don’t have slots for any kid who wants to join. But PE is open to all. Trained PE specialists teach children of all abilities the skills to move in many ways so they can enjoy being active and use activity as a way to stay healthy for a lifetime — body and mind. 

“They know the kids needed it all,” Sutton said, “and they worked so hard to provide that.”

“They are an amazing group of educators.”

Second Quarter 

As some districts continued online, PE teachers came up with more ways to keep kids active. Washington in Anchorage has been a PE teacher at Taku Elementary for 19 years, but she spent most of this year matched with classrooms to teach math, language arts and more. Taku is a Title 1 school, which means it has a high percentage of students living with families who earn lower incomes. Washington wanted to help all students stay active, but she knew every child wouldn’t have the same PE equipment at home. Given Anchorage school buildings were still closed, all the great equipment she had in the school’s gym was no longer an option. 

“I had to figure out how to get those kids excited and moving,” she said. Washington’s solution came with a partnership with her school’s PTA. They put together bags of PE equipment that went home to every child. When they showed up for a PE Zoom class, the kids each had a jump rope, some balls, and other basic equipment. As classes heard what she could offer, Washington added more remote PE classes. Every 20 minutes, she built in movement breaks for her classroom, too.

The Mat-Su Borough School District had in-person learning for most students throughout the year. As winter approached, Blake in Wasilla noticed the ground under her outdoor gym space was getting too icy. The PE classes moved back to the indoor gym space. Inside, she focused on helping kids keep their hands clean and sanitizing equipment between uses. 

Third Quarter 

April2021_RogersParkElemetary_Gym_PE-Blog.pngFor thousands of Alaska children, third quarter started a shift. Many headed back to school buildings. Some found more options for PE and activity, but that depended again on the school, the assignment of the PE teacher, even whether the gym was open for activity or repurposed for something else. As one example, PE teacher Elbow moved back into the Rogers Park gym, but he changed its purpose. For the remainder of the year, he’d teach all subjects to a sixth-grade class, setting up their desks in the gym.  

Teachers and staff at Anchorage elementary schools increased physical activity options in other ways. Each student returning in person got 30 minutes of daily recess, Sutton said. A number of schools, including Rogers Park and Taku, had maintained outdoor ice rinks open to families. 

 Washington combined her passion for PE and her new placement in a classroom by taking students out to skate during school days. Right before spring break, she organized the first family ice skating night of the year at Taku. The large rink allowed families to finally get together, while still giving skaters plenty of space.

“It was perfect,” Washington said. 

Fourth Quarter 

April2021_IceSkating_PE-Blog.png

Fourth quarter in much of this country starts with rain boots and ends with sunshine and green grass. This year’s abundant snowfall in parts of the state means Clark in Fairbanks returned to teaching in-person PE with a plan to start snowshoeing with students. Blake in Wasilla also started fourth quarter with outdoor snowshoe scavenger hunts. When the snow starts melting and muddy ground returns, Blake is planning to start circus activities in the gym – juggling, hula hooping, even balancing on stilts. The students will end with a virtual circus performance for families. 

Washington has something exciting planned for Taku students in Anchorage, too. Approaching the year’s end, Washington feels grateful for the chance to help classroom teachers and learn from that experience. Even so, she’s looking forward to returning to the gym next year, knowing it’s important to teach kids how to move and offer them opportunities to do that every week. 

“I have always wanted to be a PE teacher,” she said.

Sutton seconded the importance of returning the focus to PE and health for all students next year. The past 12 months, she said, have really reinforced the value of staying in the best health possible. 

“The health of the world was on display,” Sutton said. Having underlying health conditions, like unhealthy weight and diabetes, can make it harder to fight viruses like Covid-19 and lead to more serious infections. Most Alaska adults have at least one of these health conditions. Getting out to play during the pandemic was important for physical and mental health, but it became harder for many to do so. Alaska parents reported their kids were getting less activity during the pandemic​ than before it. 

“How do we help them come out of it and return to a state of wellness?” Sutton asked. Returning to teaching children PE and health helps them learn how to take care of themselves for a lifetime, she said.

Washington said she’s got a finale for this school year that will give her students hope for next school year. She’s working with her principal to bring back an outdoor field day on the last day of school. Sure, it will need to follow different rules during the pandemic, but she’s coming up with ways to provide fun activity stations for playing tug of war, running races and enjoying water games.  

“I think it’s going to make them super excited to come back next fall,” Washington said.

April2021_WasillaSnowshoe_PE-Blog.png



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March 18
Sugar can add up quickly: Swapping one food or drink for another can avoid a lot of added sweeteners

​MARCH 18, 2021 — Starting at a very early age, a lot of sugar can sneak in — even when we have the best of intentions to keep foods and drinks healthy. 

When little kids try new drinks, they may get added sugar in toddler milks, powdered and liquid fruit drinks, and chocolate milk. When new foods are introduced, toddlers can eat sugar in cereals, yogurts and squeezable fruit pouches.

Cutting out sugary drinks and serving water, plain cow’s milk or unsweetened soy milk instead is one of the best ways to cut out sugar for children. But what about other sources of sugar?

“National dietary surveys are clear: Sugary drinks are the top source of added sugars for toddlers through adults,” said Diane Peck, registered dietitian and Early Care and Education Coordinator for Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “But there are many other foods that come with added sugar and empty calories — or calories with no nutritional value.”

Added sugars are those that are added during processing and not found naturally in a food. Natural sugars include those in whole fruit and plain white milk. Foods and drinks with added sugars often contain calories with few, if any, nutrients.

Sugary Drinks Posts 14.jpg

There’s not much room for added sugar in a healthy daily diet

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans talk a lot about added sugar. The new guidelines recommend that children younger than age 2 should have no foods and drinks with added sugars. 

Nutrient requirements for infants and young children are high because they are growing very quickly. The amount of food they eat is small, so it’s important that what they eat and drink is healthy, rich in nutrients, and low in added sugars.

The Nutrition Facts label makes it easy to see how much sugar has been added. Just look for the line that says "includes Added Sugars" and pan over to see the percent daily value of sugar in the product. 

For everyone over age 2, the Dietary Guidelines continue to recommend limiting foods and drinks with added sugars to less than 10% of calories each day. The Dietary Guidelines recommend everyone eat a healthy daily diet that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats and dairy, and a small amount of healthy fats in amounts that provide nutrients for good health and calories to maintain a healthy weight. Meeting food group recommendations requires most of a person’s daily calorie needs, leaving few calories for extras like added sugars and fats. 

While knowing the amount of added sugar in a product is easy, knowing your or your kids’ recommended limit is a little trickier. Daily calorie needs are different for everyone, depending on age, sex, and daily physical activity. The percent daily value on the Nutrition Facts label is based on an adult daily diet of 2,000 calories. For that adult, the daily limit of added sugar should be 200 calories or 50 grams of sugar — which is the same as 12 ½ teaspoons of sugar. About 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. Since kids need fewer calories than adults, the daily added sugar limit shrinks for little kids. The general calorie levels for a very active 3-year-old girl and a moderately active 6-year-old girl are similar, and both should limit added sugar to under 22 grams a day, or 5 ½ teaspoons each day. 

The American Heart Association​ provides a simpler recommendation for limiting added sugars: all kids ages 2 to 18 and women over 18 should have fewer than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day. Men over 18 years old should have fewer than 9 teaspoons a day. 

How much sugar do most people actually eat or drink?

Every day, added sugars account for almost 270 calories — 17 teaspoons of added sugar — for the typical American. This average is reported in a national health and nutrition survey that’s shared in the current Dietary Guidelines. 

“A national dietary survey shows that sugars are often consumed above recommended amounts beginning at an early age,” said Peck. “That survey shows the average child ages 2 to 5 gets about 11 teaspoons of added sugar every day. That’s an extra 176 calories from just added sugar each day.”

“The survey also showed that children who followed the recommended limit of less than 10 percent of the total calories from added sugars had better eating habits than those who ate or drank more added sugars,” Peck said. “That’s why it’s so important to start kids out at the beginning with healthy foods and drinks.” 

Other sources of sugar add up quickly

Sugar sneaks into children’s foods in many ways. According to Peck, yogurts marketed for kids are a big source of added sugar for infants and young children. 

“Yogurt is one of those foods that should be healthy,” Peck said. “It’s a good source of protein and calcium. Unfortunately, many yogurts — especially those in tubes and pouches — contain added sugar. One small 3-ounce berry-flavored yogurt in a squeeze pouch has 2 teaspoons of sugar. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, the sugar quickly adds up meal after meal to be more than the daily recommended amount for kids.”

After sugary drinks, several types of foods are the major sources of added sugars for all ages. Note that amounts of added sugar are based on a typical serving size and brand. Actual amount of added sugar will vary among brands and sizes. Sugar can be added to the following types of foods:

Sweet baked treats

After sugary drinks, the second largest source of added sugar in children’s diets is sweet baked treats, such as cakes, pies, cookies, brownies, doughnuts, sweet rolls, and pastries. Two small brownie “bites” or 3 small chocolate chip cookies can have 3 teaspoons of added sugar each. One small slice of plain chocolate cake can have 9 teaspoons of added sugar.

Candy

Candy comes next. One 1.55-ounce chocolate bar can have just over 5 teaspoons of added sugar. One small single-serving package of chewy fruit candies can have 11 teaspoons of sugar.

Added Sugar Cereal Box 2020.jpegSugary breakfast cereals and bars

It’s easy to start the day with a load of added sugar. One chewy chocolate chip granola bar can have 2 teaspoons of added sugar. One cup of either a honey oat cereal or a sugar-coated corn cereal can have 3 teaspoons of added sugar. You can read more about sugary cereals and breakfast foods in this Play Every blog.

Dairy desserts

Dairy desserts include ice cream, frozen dairy treats like ice cream sandwiches, and puddings. One small 3.5-ounce vanilla ice cream sandwich can have 3 teaspoons of added sugar. One 3.25-ounce chocolate pudding cup can have nearly 4 teaspoons of added sugar. 

choco milk.pngFlavored milk

Flavored cow’s milk, like chocolate or strawberry, contains the same nutrients as plain white milk, but has added sugar. One 8-ounce carton of chocolate milk can have 2 ½ teaspoons of added sugar. Flavored plant milks also can contain added sugars. One 8-ounce carton of chocolate almond milk can have 4 teaspoons of added sugar and one 8-ounce carton of chocolate soy milk can have 5 teaspoons of added sugar. 

How to limit added sugar

Eating and drinking less added sugar is important for everyone’s health now and in the future. Cutting back on added sugar can help maintain a healthy weight, prevent ongoing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and reduce the chances of getting cavities.  

One of the biggest ways to cut out the most added sugar is to drink fewer sugary beverages. Parents can drink coffee without sugar or sweetened syrups, and cut back on sodas and sports, energy and vitamin drinks. They can serve children water or plain milk instead of fruit drinks. If parents plan to serve 100% fruit juice, make sure that is what's in the container (fruit drinks may look like they’re 100% fruit juice, but instead contain added sugar). Then keep those juice servings small. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that toddlers have no more than 4 ounces (1/2 cup) in a day. 

The next step is to eat fewer sugary foods. If you do have sweetened foods, take a smaller portion size than you typically would eat. Here are some swaps to consider: Peck recommends serving fresh fruit, or fruit canned in water or juice, instead of sugar-loaded desserts. Choose unsweetened applesauce instead of applesauce with added sugar. Serve plain yogurt and add frozen berries, instead of flavored yogurt with added sugar. Prepare plain oatmeal with fruit instead of oatmeal packets that come with added sugar. Snack on raw veggies, or cheese and whole grain crackers, instead of cookies or candy. 

Read the Nutrition Facts label on foods and drinks to choose options with no or low added sugar. Visit this Play Every Day website to help you figure out how much sugar is hiding in your foods and drinks. 

Get more tips for reducing added sugars from the American Heart Association. Learn more about healthy eating and get personalized calorie and meals at MyPlate.gov​


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February 16
New dietary guidelines recommended for moms and little ones

​FEBRUARY 16, 2021 — For 40 years, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans have been providing recommendations about what to eat and drink for better health.

The newest edition issued at the end of December — Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 — had some big changes. These are the first guidelines that include infants and toddlers (children under 2 years), and breastfeeding and pregnant women.

Since 1980, an updated version of the Dietary Guidelines was released every five years. The basic guidelines have remained the same over the years: Eat more whole grains; fruits and vegetables; lean meats and dairy; and a small amount of healthy fats like avocados, nuts and olive oil. Each update contained some small changes that reflected the advances in nutrition research and how the foods and drinks we consume play an important role in preventing diseases.

Stephanie Shryock is a registered dietitian, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and coordinator of the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) for the Kodiak Area Native Association. Shryock said she was excited about the new Dietary Guidelines, calling them a “wonderful resource for families and health care workers.”  

Shryock has worked with infants, toddlers, pregnant and breastfeeding women for the past 10 years. 

“These categories of people need special guidelines for several reasons, but primarily due to their body going through an especially critical time in the lifespan,” she said. “For example, a pregnant or breastfeeding mother’s eating habits and lifestyle choices may not only affect her health, but may also affect her child’s health too.”

190503-OPCP-Studio-7078-SMALL.jpgScience shows that early food preferences influence later food choices. 

“The time from birth until two is vital for establishing healthy dietary patterns and eating habits that may influence a person’s health throughout the rest of their life,” Shryock said. 

Guidelines for infants and toddlers through 2 years old

The new Dietary Guidelines align with the feeding recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics that have been around for several years: Feed infants only human milk for the first 6 months if possible. If breast milk is not available, an infant should have only iron-fortified commercial formula. 

Babies should continue to drink human milk for at least the first year of life even as solid foods are slowly introduced around 6 months old. At that age, infants are developing the skills needed to eat solid foods, such as holding their head and neck upright and bringing their hand and objects to their mouth. Babies’ first foods should be nutrient-rich foods from all the food groups: iron- and zinc-fortified baby cereal, pureed or soft meats, seafood, beans, eggs, plain yogurt, cheese, fruits and vegetables. Infants under age 1 should not have cow’s milk, plant milks, fruit juice, soda, or caffeinated drinks. These beverages do not contain the correct amount of nutrients to replace human milk or iron-fortified infant formula. Cow’s milk can be hard for an infant’s system to process. These beverages may also contain added sugars that can lead to children growing up at an unhealthy weight.

The new Dietary Guidelines recommend introducing infants to potentially allergenic foods at 4- to 6- months old, along with other foods. Typical foods that may cause an allergic response include foods that contain peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, and cow’s milk. These foods should be slowly introduced early in life to prevent allergic reactions from developing. Parents with infants with severe eczema or an egg allergy should check with their health care provider before feeding foods with peanuts. Cow’s milk should be slowly added beginning at age 1.

Introduce infants to one single-ingredient new food every three to five days, said Diane Peck, registered dietitian with Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. Watch to see if there are any reactions, such as a rash. Start small with ½ ounce to 1 ounce of a single food once a day. Slowly increase the amount and number of foods. Within a few months of starting solid foods, a baby's daily diet should include small amounts of a variety of foods with different flavors and textures from all food groups.

Additional guidelines for toddlers ages 1-2 

In the second year of life, toddlers may continue to drink human milk, but should be getting the majority of their calories and nutrients from healthy, age-appropriate foods and beverages. 

“During this period, nutrients critical for brain development and growth must be provided in adequate amounts,” Shryock said. “Children in this age group consume small quantities of foods, so it’s important to make every bite count!”

Toddlers should be eating the same healthy foods as infants ages 6 months and older, with increasing variety in tastes and textures. Whole, vitamin-D fortified cow’s milk and fortified soy milk can be introduced at 1 years old. Cereals should include whole grains. Whole fruit is best, but if parents and caregivers are serving 100% fruit juice, toddlers should have no more than 4 ounces (1/2 cup) in a day. The best drinks for toddlers are water, plain cow’s milk, unsweetened soy milk, or human milk. 

Play-Every-Day-Drink-Milk-Poster-8.5_x11_.jpgInfants and young children have no room in their diet for the added calories that come from added sugars. Added sugars are those not found naturally in a food, but instead added during processing. That includes sugars added to foods, like some yogurts and cereals, and to drinks, like soda and flavored milk. Those added sugars can lead to childhood obesity, dental cavities, and chronic diseases, such as diabetes that can develop even in young children. 

Sugary drinks provide much of the added sugar consumed by little children. For the best health, toddlers should not drink toddler milks, flavored milk like chocolate or strawberry, and sugary drinks. Sugary drinks include soda, powdered drink mixes, sports drinks, vitamin-enhanced waters, and fruit-flavored drinks or punch.

Play Every Day’s recent messages promote giving water and milk to little children instead of sugary drinks. Children watch what their parents and caregivers are eating and drinking. If adults choose a bottle of water instead of a bottle of a soda or vitamin drink, children watching them will be more likely to want that healthy option, too.

Guidelines for pregnant or breastfeeding women

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should follow the same dietary recommendations as other age groups, but with extra calorie and nutrient needs at different stages, especially during the second and third trimester of pregnancy, and when providing breast milk to their babies and toddlers.  Pregnant women should work with their health care provider to determine the appropriate supplements and amount of healthy weight gain during their pregnancy.

Helpful meal pattern and healthy food ideas

There are helpful resources online if you’re wondering what all these Dietary Guidelines actually look like on your plate, or what you should feed your infant or toddler. Visit the Dietary Guidelines Food Sources of Select Nutrients to see which foods are good sources of important recommended nutrients.

Learn more about healthy eating from birth through all stages of life and get personalized calorie and meal patterns at MyPlate.gov. Parents can find a wide variety of nutrition and other useful health information for children of all ages at HealthyChildren.org​


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February 08
Help spread kindness: Pay It Forward this February

​FEBRUARY 8, 2021 — Have you stood in a checkout aisle and started to sweat because you realized you were short on cash? Unexpectedly, the shopper behind you stepped in to cover your groceries, and you did the same for a shopper the next time. 

Or maybe you were at a coffee shop, standing in line and learned the person in front of you pre-paid for your drink? Or you shoveled a neighbor’s driveway, and the next snowfall, that neighbor shoveled three other driveways and the sidewalk, too.  

That’s paying it forward. Yes, we say thank you to the person who thought of us in that moment, but then we do a similar kindness for someone else in the future. 

In December 2020, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) honored the pending arrival of COVID-19 vaccines and other brighter things to come through the “Bring Back the Light” event. The night before winter solstice, Alaskans across the state lit ice luminaries and shined all types of lights to show their resiliency and support for one another. 

Pay It Forward in February

PayItForward_Square.jpgDuring the week of Feb. 12–Feb. 19, 2021, the health department is organizing “Pay It Forward February​.” During the month, remember the time when someone showed you a kindness during the pandemic, and then pay that kindness forward to someone else. You can pay the same kindness forward: someone bought you a coffee, so you bought the next person in line a coffee. Or you offer whatever kindness works best for you. Maybe someone jump-started your car when you needed to get to work, and you turned around and cooked dinner for the neighbor who works long hours and is coming home to a hungry family at night. Paying it forward doesn’t have to cost a cent. Open the door for the person behind you, offer a helping hand to the child who slipped on the ice, or smile at someone who looks like they could use one. 

There are many ways to share kindness this month

Paying it forward between Feb. 12 and Feb. 19 can look different for everyone. It could be as easy as thanking someone, running an errand for an elderly neighbor, or shopping at local businesses that may be struggling to keep the doors open during the pandemic. You could reach out to Alaskans you know who are 65 or older and help them sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through covidvax.alaska.gov or by calling (907) 646-3322. You may be looking for company right now, at the same time an animal needs a loving home. Visit a local shelter and adopt a pet. 

Many Alaskans don’t need just one week for showing kindness. They show it all year-round. A group of 2,500 Alaskans belong to the Pay It Forward Fairbanks Facebook page that provides a place to ask for what you need and thank others for what they’ve given. You’ll see stories of people who’ve started car after car after car in this Alaska city that’s used to frigid temperatures and dead batteries that need a kick-start. You’ll read posts about neighbors offering clothes to others in need, community members helping a resident find a low-cost used car to get to a new job, and families paying for the meal for the carload of people behind them in the drive-through. 

During Pay It Forward February, you could support local organizations that are helping families throughout the state. There are so many to consider. DHSS is partnering with many groups to encourage supporting others in February. This includes the United Way organizations in Anchorage, Mat-Su, Southeast and Tanana Valley. The United Way of Anchorage’s annual Walk 4 Warmth is scheduled Feb. 5–14, 2021, right along with Pay It Forward February. All funds raised will help families and individuals who are struggling to pay rent, utilities and other basic needs during the pandemic. Walk 4 Warmth is actually a perfect example of paying it forward: Each dollar donated will go even further, with a 1-to-1 match. 

The Food Bank of Alaska, Anchorage Park Foundation, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and so many more groups are also supporting Alaskans to share kindness with others this month. You could pay it forward by dropping off food to your local food bank or cleaning up trash along the local park trails. You can’t go wrong with kindness.  

Share your kindness, and tag someone else to do the same

Pay It Forward February​ isn’t a formal event. This is one activity you can make your own. You can participate by yourself, but the real magic comes when the kindness keeps going. Ask your friends and loved ones to join you in paying it forward, or participate as a business or organization. Then ask your friends, family and groups to tag others to participate. Post your Pay It Forward actions on social media. Consider sharing photos or videos of how you paid it forward this month by using the hashtag #WithYouAlaska. More kindness can start in February, but it doesn’t need to stop then. 


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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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