Letter from our CEO: Visioning a Healthy, Equitable Future

Dear Friends,

For more than 15 years, Healthier Generation has envisioned a world where our children live healthier lives. This year has intensified an oft-repeated lesson – that optimal health requires more equitable solutions – especially for populations and communities that have experienced historic disinvestment.

It is in this pivotal moment, given the unprecedented events of 2020, we hold tighter to our vision for a healthy, equitable future and our guiding impact statement: Every mind, every body, every young person – healthy and ready to succeed. Our commitment to you, and one that I am personally invested in, is that our actions reflect our purposeful, deliberate approach to advancing equitable whole child health.

We put that commitment into action this year by:

Reallocating our resources to support educators and families grappling with the unprecedented stress and disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic through the launch of the COVID-19 Resource Center.
Intensifying our commitment to Black and Brown communities in the fight against social injustice and seeking proven solutions that rectify the effects of racism and inequity on public health.
Releasing a series of resources to support families looking to eat healthier, and strengthen their social-emotional health and learning while coping with the reality of toggling between in-person and home-based education.
Recognizing over 500 award-winning schools, 78% of which serve students from under-resourced communities, that strengthened their nutrition and physical activity efforts – and then leveraged those foundations in wellness to prioritize healthy habits for all students.
Taking a stand against any threat or proposed reforms to school meals that sought to roll back nutrition standards set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and that would have a disproportionate negative impact on children who rely on those meals for their daily intake of nutrients.

For the Health of the Next Generation

As you read through this report, I hope for two outcomes. First, our rallying cry for health equity strongly resonates with you. You are critical to our journey and we cannot ensure our kids live healthier lives without you by our side. Second, I hope you feel proud about what we have accomplished together this past year and are enthused about the possibilities we face together to make a meaningful difference for our kids. I look forward to working with you in 2021 and beyond to co-create a future that honors and supports every child – equitably – and will ensure that our next generation is the healthiest yet.

With deep gratitude,
Kathy Higgins
Kathy Higgins, Healthier Generation CEO

Engaging Schools

While the pandemic caused untold disruption to our education system, around the country schools and educators did their best to continue to prioritize equitable whole child health. That included focusing on critical wellness areas such as improving social-emotional health and learning, access to healthy foods, self-care for educators and caregivers, and new resources to combat the rise in youth vaping. To celebrate the incredible achievements across the nation, Healthier Generation awarded 521 schools as America’s Healthiest Schools — 78% of which serve students from under-resourced communities.

Building Resilience Through Self-Care and Stress Management

Healthier Generation continues to support schools in meeting children’s social-emotional needs — addressing one of the biggest setbacks to have resulted from the social isolation associated with COVID-19.

This year, we saw a significant increase in schools and districts joining the Resilience in School Environments (RISE) Initiative, launched with generous support and leadership from Kaiser Permanente and the Thriving Schools team, to support staff and students in managing their emotions, recognizing strengths and weaknesses, and rising above adversity.

Together with Harmony SEL, we delivered valuable support to thousands of communities nationwide amid unprecedented circumstances, ensuring children’s social-emotional learning remained at the forefront of their education whether in school or at home. Between February and October, more than 11,000 schools across the country benefited from free and evidenced-based social-emotional learning resources.

Key highlights from Healthier Generation’s resilience programming include:

Hosting a webinar series for nearly 12,000 registrants titled “Caring for the Education Community During COVID-19,” that covered the topics of stress management and self-care.
Launching the Planning for the Next Normal at School Playbook, with over 30 trusted school health organizations — including the National Association of School Nurses — to help education leaders make informed decisions about how to keep students, staff and families healthy when schools reopened virtually and/or in-person.
Releasing the Quick Start Health Assessment, a 15-question whole child health assessment designed to support schools in prioritizing and implementing key mental, physical and social health practices within the context of COVID-19. In the first few weeks following its release, more than 300 schools and 34 districts had started the Quick Start Health Assessment.
Between October 2019 and September 2020, 1,368 schools and 87 districts across the country started our RISE Index and took their first step towards implementing a trauma-informed approach to policies, systems and environments related to social-emotional health — helping to build the resiliency of 220,000 students.

A survey of nearly 800 school and district leaders conducted by Healthier Generation and Kaiser Permanente anticipated challenges of school reopening.

Activating Schools and Families to Eradicate Vaping

Many schools and districts nationwide face another epidemic: vaping. To create vape-free and tobacco-free campuses that support the health, well-being and academic success of the next generation, we teamed up with partners to leverage our expertise in school health to make a difference for students and families.

In FY20, the CVS Health Foundation, a private charitable organization created by CVS Health, provided a grant to the American Heart Association and Healthier Generation to launch the Tobacco-Free Schools Initiative — a national program reinforcing supportive learning environments that center on tobacco cessation and prevention through sound school policy and best practices.

The initiative provides school and district leaders direct, online access to a new district-level model policy that promotes supportive disciplinary practices and alternatives to suspension, as well as a district-level assessment that will help identify opportunities to update or strengthen their current tobacco policies and practices.

Providing Wellness Roadmaps for In and Out-of-School Time Sites

Wellness policies help each school set its path for success while following proven methods for creating healthier environments. This year, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we updated our Model Local School Wellness Policy to include new features and revised language to meet (or exceed) federal regulations from the USDA’s Final Rule under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Additionally, we revised our Healthy Out-of-School Time Model Wellness Policy guide to include language that supports social-emotional health while implementing nutrition and physical activity opportunities.

Supporting Families

As schools, youth-serving organizations and families nationwide confronted unprecedented disruption, Healthier Generation provided them with meaningful solutions to their daily challenges, customizing resources and support to maintain healthy living when it mattered most.

Eating Healthy, Moving More and Feeling Better at Home

Together with Kohl’s, Healthier Generation expanded the Kohl’s Healthy at Home initiative and reached over 2.8 million families — helping them to prioritize a healthier lifestyle as they navigated new routines along with shifting work and learning environments.

Thanks to a dedicated team of Kohl’s Associate volunteers, over 2,400 students from schools across Missouri and South Carolina received back-to-school kits designed to help students and their families get a healthy, fresh start to the school year. The kits included items to improve their holistic health including reusable water bottles, stress balls and pillows.

Kohl’s Healthy at Home provided educators, parents and caregivers with a full suite of simple, easy-to-use resources in English and Spanish to help families eat healthier, move more and build social-emotional skills together. This year also marked the launch of the initiative’s first three-part virtual wellness series featuring:

Movement and Meditation for Caregivers led by Tara Stiles, founder of Strala Yoga and Healthier Generation Ambassador.
A Conversation on Inclusion, Cooperation and Self-Esteem with youth engagement experts.
Family Connection through Food, a virtual cooking event featuring Chef Grace Ramirez, distinguished chef, author and TV personality.

To date, Kohl’s Healthy at Home has partnered with more than 9,000 schools across the country to better engage families in good health — 75% of these schools are located in under-resourced and underserved communities.

Healthier Generation Program Manager Beth Barry (Left) helps present Kohl’s back-to-school kits to Bradley Elementary School in South Carolina. August 2019.

Movement was especially important as the pandemic deprived kids’ access to daily physical activity at school. Luckily, our library of fitness break videos kept families moving at home. Since March, these videos have been viewed more than 30,000 times.

The Importance of Sleep

Healthier Generation continues to make significant progress in establishing sleep as an integral part of whole child health through the Sleep Smarter. Perform Better. digital resource center.

The last few months brought an increase in demand for evidence-based sleep resources as parents and educators struggled to manage stress, build immunity and maintain quality sleep routines. In response, we intensified our efforts to support families with quality sleep — reaching 2.5 million youth.

Learn new ways to improve your sleep environment for a more restful night’s sleep.

Serving Communities

Healthier Generation helps communities play a central role in reinforcing equitable whole child health. Our work focuses on convening and facilitating industry-wide and community-based solutions that strengthen the environments that surround children, ensuring they continue to provide and promote good health.

Elevating Standards on Food and Beverage

In FY20, Healthier Generation monitored and implemented its multi-year transformational industry commitments with McDonald’s and the American Beverage Association (ABA) with one clear goal: that more healthy foods and drinks are consumed by children and families in the United States.

The latest progress report released by an independent evaluator, Keybridge, showed that consumption of calories, fat, salt and sugar from Happy Meals has decreased in the United States.

The Beverage Calories Initiative — a ten-year commitment led by Healthier Generation with the ABA, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Keurig Dr Pepper — has shown that beverage calories fell at a growing pace over each of the last three years, for a total reduction of 5.6% since 2016, even as sales volumes continued to grow. In 2019, beverage calories decreased by 2.4%, driven largely by reduced consumption of full-calorie sodas.

The checkout counter isn’t the only place where our work is making an impact. We facilitated a commitment with the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) to increase the proportion of “better for you” offerings in vending machines across the country by 40% over three years.

With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, our cross-sector initiatives are poised to reshape the marketplace from cafeterias to grocery stores to restaurants and vending machines. We proudly drive bold, systemic change to provide children and families with more nutritious options in service of our health equity goals.

As part of a Healthier Generation-led global commitment with McDonald’s to reduce soda and increase water intake by children, half of beverages sold in Happy Meals in 2019 were water, milk, or juice, up from 36% in 2013.

Working Locally to Drive Meaningful Progress

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina made it possible to deliver critical onsite training and technical assistance to six districts in the state. Healthier Generation’s community-based program experts connected with dozens of schools, focusing on healthy eating, physical activity and social-emotional wellness for students, staff and families, resulting in 59 schools receiving the America’s Healthiest Schools award.

Other Healthier Generation staff delivered equally meaningful impact by working with local health champions in countless communities nationwide — as a result of generous support provided by the following partners:

  • AdvoCare Foundation
  • American Electric Power
  • Assisi Foundation
  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
  • CVS Health Foundation
  • Fullerton Foundation
  • Louisiana Department of Education
  • Mary Black Foundation
  • Missouri Foundation for Health
  • Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation
  • Saint Luke’s Foundation

In South Florida, we provided training and technical assistance to Concerned African Women, Inc. and 30 out-of-school time sites in Miami Gardens — made possible by the Health Foundation of South Florida. As a participant in the Live Healthy Miami Gardens coalition, we connected with other community partners to improve collective local health outcomes for schools, places of worship, parks and recreation sites, and community-based organizations.

Healthier Generation virtually facilitated the annual National Corner Store Network Conference in October to ensure community-based partners were able to connect on timely topics including pandemic response, culturally sensitive community engagement initiatives, and online commerce. There are more than 152,000 convenience stores and tens of thousands of corner stores and bodegas in the United States, which have a huge influence on food and beverage consumption at the community level.

Children learn about balanced eating and literacy at an event co-hosted by Healthier Generation in Columbus, OH. February 2020.

See why e-commerce is so beneficial to youth-serving organizations.

The National Corner Store Network Conference holds its meeting via Zoom. October 2020.