Letter from our CEO

Dear Friends,

As we approach the end of another transformative year, I find myself reflecting on the incredible journey we've undertaken together in our mission to support whole child health.

The past year was nothing short of extraordinary, filled with both triumphs and trials that have tested our collective resilience. The country’s health landscape continued to evolve, presenting new challenges to persisting health concerns. Yet, in the face of adversity, together we demonstrated unwavering determination and adaptability.

One of our proudest moments this year was celebrating the largest number of America’s Healthiest Schools in program history at this year’s Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. Nearly 800 schools from across the country were awarded for implementing vital best practices prioritizing the physical, mental, and social-emotional health of students, staff, and families. With a focus on promoting policies that address historic and ongoing health inequities for youth from under-resourced communities, we are honored to recognize the schools that demonstrate their central role as powerful agents of impact and change.

Our commitment to health equity was further underscored by the innovative initiatives and campaigns we launched or catalyzed throughout the year. From community collaborations that started with a raised garden bed in a public housing community in rural North Carolina to strengthening comprehensive school-based wellness programs such as The Walking Classroom, we are working to help all children grow up healthy. We believe that every child, regardless of their background or circumstances, deserves the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to our dedicated team, passionate health champions, and invaluable partners who play a pivotal role in advancing whole child health. Your unwavering support and tireless efforts have been instrumental in driving our mission forward and making a meaningful impact on the lives of countless children and families.

The road to achieving a future where every mind, every body, and every young person is healthy and ready to succeed may still be long, but our resolve remains unshakeable. We are energized by the progress we've made, motivated by the lives we've reached, and inspired by the possibilities that lie ahead.

As we enter the next year, we will carry the lessons of the past year with us—lessons of resilience, forethought, innovation, and the transformative power of collaboration. With your continued support, I am confident that we will not only overcome the challenges that lie ahead but also create lasting change that reverberates through generations.

Thank you for being an integral part of our journey. Here's to another year of making a difference and building a healthier, more equitable world for all.

Kathy Higgins, Healthier Generation CEO

Our Schools are Powerful Agents of Change

Kathy Higgins addresses school leaders at the opening plenary of America’s Healthiest Schools Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.

Healthy Homes

Whether sharing family meals or enjoying an impromptu dance party, the behaviors that children practice at home can set the stage for life-long habits that support their physical, mental, and social-emotional health. Healthier Generation collaborates with partners like Kohl’s and Del Monte Foods to help families thrive.

Expanding Support for Caregivers

In June, we expanded our offerings under Healthier Generation’s Kohl’s Healthy at Home initiative with a text messaging service (SMS) that sends free health tips and tools to caregivers of school-age children. Participating families receive weekly messages that cut through the noise of a busy week with evidence-based, action-oriented support to help kids thrive.

During the back-to-school season, we sent out links to resources to support children’s mental health, encourage daily movement, and inspire nutritious meals while families were adjusting to new routines and expectations. Through this winter and beyond, Healthier Generation will continue to curate timely, seasonally relevant resources for our subscribers.

Our SMS program sends inspiration and resources directly to caregivers’ phones.

Bringing Healthy Family Meals Home

In the fall, PBS affiliate KLCS-TV premiered “Healthy at Home,” a cooking series produced by Healthier Generation in partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District under our Kohl’s Healthy at Home initiative. The series, featuring award-winning celebrity chefs Justin Pichetrungsi and Chef Lovely, highlights the city’s vibrant food culture, local community leaders, and wellness and nutrition resources. Each of the four 15-minute episodes features a family-friendly recipe, cooking skills demonstration, and ideas for connecting with family and culture through food.

Each of the four 15-minute episodes features a family-friendly recipe, cooking skills demonstration, and ideas for connecting with family and culture through food:

Maggie Yu-DiPasquale, LAUSD Wellness Policy Organization Facilitator, said the series “was such an invaluable opportunity to promote nutrition education and the importance of family time."

Chef Pichetrungsi demonstrates how to make papaya salad with LAUSD’s Dawn Soto (L) and Maggie Yu-DiPasquale (R) in this segment that aired on PBS affiliate KLCS-TV.

Nourishing Families by Nourishing Schools

Building on the successful launch of our Nourishing Families by Nourishing Schools initiative, supported by Del Monte Foods, Healthier Generation continued to bring families together around shared meals.

For National Nutrition Month in March, we debuted our Snacktivities resource, a fun combination of recipes and games that lets kids lead the way. To help families navigate the squeeze of early morning alarms, homework, and sports schedules in the busy back-to-school period, our “Easing Back into Routines” campaign offered ideas for fun afterschool snacks and quick, affordable weeknight dinners. We hosted TV’s Chef Lovely for a live virtual cooking demonstration where she taught us to make peach pie strudels from pantry ingredients.

To date, this work has engaged nearly 5,000 K-12 schools, equipping 1.25 million families with nutrition resources to help children thrive.

Chef Lovely joined Healthier Generation to show us how to make her original, adaptable recipe for toaster strudels.

Healthy Schools

Healthier Generation recognizes the vital role schools play in fostering equitable whole child health. Through innovative programs like America’s Healthiest Schools and The Walking Classroom, we’re providing schools with essential supports to help students thrive.

Achieving a Healthier Generation through Thriving Schools

With support from Kaiser Permanente, Healthier Generation’s program managers and subject matter experts continue to equip health, school, and community champions with tools and resources to equitably transform the environments where children live, learn, and play. Districts and schools use the Thriving Schools Integrated Assessment and the Resilience in School Environments (RISE) Index to evaluate their policies and practices, create action plans, and implement best practices to support student and staff health.

Highlights of our collaboration with Kaiser Permanente in 2023 include:

  • Creation of 30 new evidence-informed resources to promote social-emotional health and staff well-being
  • Delivery of 150+ professional learning opportunities to district and school partners across all Kaiser Permanente markets
  • Co-facilitation of a national webinar series, supported by the California Department of Education, on topics ranging from transformative relationships to collective social-emotional learning
  • Launch of an assessment demonstration allowing visitors to test the functionality of the Thriving Schools Integrated Assessment on our website
  • Debut of a self-service reporting suite that provides data visualizations to help schools and districts understand and act on aggregate data
  • Partnership with Prince George’s County Public Schools district leadership to conduct focus groups, supported by the Pull Up Fund, to better understand and address educator well-being, with an emphasis on Black and Latinx staff
  • Provision of intensive support from Healthier Generation program managers to 55+ districts in Kaiser Permanente’s markets
Healthier Generation Program Manager Emma Wahlen and Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools Lead Curtis Robbins support teaching partners at Adams County School District 14 in Commerce City, Colorado.

Educators at Adams County School District 14 give a garden cooking demonstration.

America’s Healthiest Schools Taking Root in South Carolina

Located in the heart of South Carolina, Beechwood Middle School engages students, staff, and family to grow the foundation for whole child health. In 2022, the school achieved America’s Healthiest Schools recognition in one topic area; this year, it was recognized in six. This impressive year-over-year increase reflects a statewide trend: the number of awarded schools in South Carolina grew from 24 in 2022 to 83 in 2023.

Angela Kruger, School Wellness Lead at Beechwood Middle School, says “It all started with an idea for a garden. Students at Beechwood wanted to access fresh, farm-to-table-style vegetables for their cafeteria meals. We were able to get connected to a school garden grant thanks to a partnership with Healthier Generation as part of the Diabetes Free SC School Wellness Initiative. When we embarked on this work, we wanted to improve our school in ways that benefit students, staff, families, and the community at large. Partnering with Healthier Generation has helped us create systems to organize our school wellness efforts to do just that.”

“We are striving to grow in our knowledge and capacity each year to leverage more student, staff, and family voices and participation in the continuous improvement journey. We are excited to meet our goals on our Action Plan this year to make Beechwood a healthier place for all to learn, play, and grow.”

-- Angela Kruger, School Wellness Lead, Beechwood Middle School, Lexington County School District One

Students at Beechwood MS clean out their raised beds and harvest sweet potatoes for their school taste test.

Angela Kruger celebrates Beechwood Middle School’s recognition at the America's Healthiest Schools Leaders Summit in Washington D.C.

Partners Stepping Up with The Walking Classroom

The Walking Classroom is Healthier Generation’s award-winning program that gets kids moving at school while listening to educational podcasts aligned to state curriculum standards. Our innovative WalkKit devices give teachers access to nearly 200 educational podcasts on a variety of topics, as well as complementary lesson plans, comprehension quizzes, and supplemental activities.

This year, the JCPenney Communities Foundation announced a three-year commitment to support the distribution of 5,000 WalkKits to schools across the country, including in North Texas, where the company is headquartered. This donation will enable Healthier Generation to bring accessible, innovative, and effective programming to 150 classrooms, reaching an additional 30,000 students by 2025.

“JCPenney is proud to invest in the first nationwide distribution of The Walking Classroom … Classrooms across the country are receiving this valuable tool, enabling teachers to discover new ways to engage students and make their classrooms healthy environments where kids can learn on the move.”

Michelle Sing, JCPenney Head of Communications and Philanthropy, JCPenney Communities Foundation President

Advancing Tobacco-Free, Vape-Free Communities through Youth Voice

With support from the CVS Health Foundation, Healthier Generation has advanced tobacco- and vape-free policies and increased implementation of restorative practices in 290 districts, reaching 4.9 million students and staff. Nearly 90 schools were honored as America’s Healthiest Schools for fostering tobacco-free learning environments through implementation of Healthier Generation’s Tobacco-Free District Model Policy during the 2022-2023 school year.

Highlighting youth voices is a key component of our approach to promoting tobacco-free, vape-free communities. “Data has shown that 90% of adult smokers begin this deadly addiction as teenagers or earlier. Youth are critical and powerful voices in the fight against tobacco,” says D’Jillisser Kelly, lead project coordinator with No Menthol Movement ATL, an initiative to reduce tobacco use and vaping in the Atlanta area. In 2023, Healthier Generation highlighted both Kelly and filmmaker Lincoln Mondy as health champions making important contributions to this work.

We also continued our collaboration with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and worked with the #iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board to develop an interactive keynote presentation for the 2023 Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Workshop, where local youth reflected on their identities and advocacy work. “To encourage young people to share their passion requires us to appreciate and acknowledge the unique facets of their lived experiences and identities,” says Daniel Hatcher, Healthier Generation’s Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships, who delivered the workshop keynote. “It’s our role as adults to set young people up for success. Taking time to help youth prepare to share their feelings and observations when they go home or talk to others makes our work more impactful.”

D’Jillisser Kelly at a Great American Smokeout outreach event hosted by Clark Atlanta University

Participants of the keynote activity at the 2023 Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Workshop created “My Best Self” sculptures.

Healthy Communities

Healthier Generation is helping communities address key issues that affect the health of children and families—from food insecurity to vaccine hesitancy and lack of healthcare access—with evidence-informed, culturally-responsive strategies and partnerships.

Improving Food Access in North Carolina

Through a grant provided by Novo Nordisk, the Healthier Generation, Healthier North Carolina initiative brings together rural communities in North Carolina – with representation from health organizations, non-profits, food service providers, farmers, and schools – to work collaboratively toward a common goal: increase access to healthy foods for children and their families. To date, over 50 organizations, including three school districts, have joined the effort to support school health advisory councils in identifying whole child health goals, assessing best practices, and creating action plans. Plans range from implementing centralized school gardens, changing wellness policies, and developing a digital, interactive resource directory and map for users to quickly connect to each other and the project’s many services. Healthier Generation has also collaborated with two community partners, A Better Chance, A Better Community (ABC2) and the Conetoe Family Life Center Farm, to distribute fresh foods to more than 200 families at a Bertie County Schools event. Over the course of the year, this initiative has supported over 5,000 students and their families.

Healthier Generation North Carolina Program Manager Shahnee Haire and Lauren Taylor of Leaf of Life chat over coffee about the importance of increasing access to health food for children and families through community gardening.

Families select fresh fruit and vegetables at an event hosted by Bertie County Schools.

Increasing Childhood Vaccine Confidence and Education

Healthier Generation promotes vaccine confidence and access through research, collaboration, and dissemination of critical information from trusted sources. At the local level, we continued our partnership with Robeson and Bertie Counties in North Carolina to increase childhood vaccination rates. With support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we hosted public “Ask a Health Professional” events where community members could ask questions about routine and recommended childhood vaccines.

To hone our support for caregivers, we conducted national market research on parent attitudes and behaviors related to childhood vaccination delays. Similar to national polling data, 92% of parents in our study reported their child had received all vaccinations on the CDC-recommended schedule. Among the 8% of parents who had delayed or refused at least one vaccine, 31% were concerned about vaccine ingredients, 29% did not want their child getting too many vaccines at once, 27% wanted to delay until their child was older, and 26% were wary of serious reactions. We shared these findings with a variety of groups working to promote vaccinations, including presentations to Vaccinate Your Family and at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington, D.C.

In August, in observance of National Immunization Awareness Month, we hosted a panel discussion exploring how schools can leverage restorative practices and equity-based solutions to improve vaccine access and confidence. Speakers included representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Council of Negro Women, and UnidosUS, as well as Dr. Leah Ferguson, Associate Director of Evaluation at Healthier Generation.

Our work to ensure equitable access to childhood vaccinations is supported by Merck and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A panel of health professionals participated in the Robeson County Whole Child Health Forum.

Our August webinar, “Increasing Vaccinations: Equitable School-Based Solutions to Keep Kids Healthy and Learning,” featured experts from federal agencies and non-profits.

Reducing Diabetes Risk in South Carolina

Healthier Generation program managers partnered with the Diabetes Free South Carolina initiative, supported by the BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation, to reduce the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes among youth in South Carolina through gardening projects.

With funding from Diabetes Free SC and management from the Clemson Extension School Gardening for South Carolina Educators program, our collective efforts resulted in supporting nineteen gardens with equipment, educational curricula distribution, and training and certification for school staff. Beyond physical health, the project helps meet students’ social-emotional needs through engagement with peers and the community.

To date, the initiative has reached ten underserved districts, impacting nearly 90,000 students and their families across 133 schools. The project has also attracted the support and expertise of multiple membership organizations locally, regionally and state-wide, leading to sustainable policy and system changes that will benefit children and families in South Carolina for years to come.

South Carolina students and faculty share the many benefits of their school gardening club.

Future Farmers of America elementary students in Kershaw County, South Carolina get excited for the new school garden.

Reflecting on a Decade of Global Impact

In 2013, Healthier Generation announced the first of two landmark nutrition commitments with McDonald’s that would reshape the Happy Meal around the world.

With the release of the final report on these commitments, published by independent evaluator Keybridge, we are reflecting on the tremendous impact that these commitments have had on the health of millions of children and families.

This year’s report concluded that, in fulfillment of the latest set of commitments, McDonald’s had:

  • Served more than 5.7 billion items containing recommended food groups in the Happy Meal between 2018 and 2022
  • Reduced average calories in Happy Meal Bundle Offerings by 6%, sodium by 9%, saturated fat by 15%, and added sugar by 26%
  • Introduced 70 new fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy, whole grain, lean protein, and water options to Happy Meal menus across 20 global markets

These results attest to the power of leveraging the scale of corporations like McDonald’s with rigorous cross-sector partnerships to benefit the health of children and families.

In October, Healthier Generation hosted a webinar to share learnings about what it took to make changes to the Happy Meal across 20 global markets, including the United States.

Deepening Partnerships for Health Equity

In 2023, Healthier Generation teamed up with dozens of partner organizations to deliver experiential workshops at national, regional, and local conferences and events. These collaborative presentations covered a range of topics, from tobacco-use to trauma-informed teaching strategies, summertime activities to teacher well-being, and beyond.

For example, in April, we partnered with the #iCANendthetrend Youth Advisory Board to develop and deliver a keynote presentation, “Sharing Your Passion,” for the 2023 Kentucky Youth Tobacco Control Workshop. In June, we worked with the Fox Valley Boys and Girls Clubs in Appleton, Wisconsin to film a kid-friendly recipe segment that was broadcast to 3.6 million club participants on “Feel Great Friday.”

We also established or built upon existing collaborations with the National Recreation and Park Association, California Academy of Sciences, The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, & Museums, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, as well as health champions like U.N. Ambassador Sunny Vachher, who connected us with Young Storytellers to strengthen our efforts to spotlight youth voices.

We look forward to continuing to grow these collaborations in the months and years to come.

Daniel Hatcher, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships at Healthier Generation, films a recipe segment with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fox Valley.

Sunny Vachher and Daniel Hatcher with Cassandra Arechiga of Woodcraft Rangers at the 2023 Young Storytellers Biggest Show in Los Angeles.