In the coming weeks, we’ll see a new generation of youth graduate and move into higher education classrooms and the workforce. But at this nostalgic and celebratory time of year, how are we helping to ensure we’re building a healthy, high-achieving generation of youth to follow? At GENYOUth, the organization I’m proud to lead, we view youth themselves as the solution to the current challenges of health and wellness in schools and communities.
Kids taking responsibility for big social change is virtually a “great American tradition.” Youth-led solutions to our nation’s biggest problems are embedded in our DNA. And whether we’re talking about getting seat-belt laws passed, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, or evangelizing anti-smoking and anti-bullying messages, it’s all part of the grand continuum of youth leading the way. In the face of the ongoing obesity crisis and the accompanying crisis in physical inactivity in this country, we’re simply entering the latest chapter in an ongoing and inspiring saga of empowered youth making things happen.
GENYOUth and its partners, like the PTA, are working to provide ongoing and sustainable solutions to the challenges of improving nutrition and providing greater opportunities for physical activity in schools, at home, and beyond.
We are already seeing the impact of the youth voice through programs such as Fuel Up to Play 60 and AdVenture Capital. Because of these programs more than 13 million students are eating healthier, 16 million are more active, and we’ve enabled youth entrepreneurs to successfully implement their ideas to get their schools and communities to embrace healthier lifestyles.
The hard realities are in front of us – nearly three-quarters of our youth do not get the recommended daily exercise or proper nutrition each day, and the costs of childhood obesity remain almost inestimable – with the latest figures having a projected impact of $200 billion per year; expected to rise to $350 billion by 2025. The implications are far reaching for education and schools, families, communities, the healthcare system, unemployment, job growth, government services, and productivity overall. Ensuring that youth have the power, the potential, and the permission to create healthful environments that increase their chances for success in school and in life is more critical now than ever.
What youth say are the necessary characteristics to successful youth-led initiatives.
We already know empowering youth can be as simple as listening to them — and that when youth are actively engaged in a problem, the outcomes are better. But we also know that:
- When it comes to reforms in education and public health, youth are an enormously underused resource for community change.
- Young people who are involved in working for change receive inarguable benefits — and organizations and communities benefit as well.
- Theorists and commentators who work with youth are actively calling for increased youth involvement in public affairs – noting the positive impact youth inevitably have on civic issues.
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I invite you to learn more by accessing a copy of our latest report ‘Empowering Youth: Students as Change-Agents for Schools and Communities’ here. Furthermore, I encourage you to connect with us on a local level and see how program like Fuel Up to Play 60 are being activated in your communities and how together we can help embrace and support youth empowerment and its vital and necessary role in creating healthier generations of Americans.
You can follow GENYOUth on Twitter at @GENYOUthNow, or Fuel Up to Play 60 at @FUTP60.
Alexis Glick is the CEO of GENYOUth. Founded through an unprecedented public-private partnership with National Dairy Council (NDC) and the National Football League (NFL), and committed to child health and wellness, GENYOUth brings leaders in health, education, government and business together in a movement to help America’s youth achieve a healthier future. Learn more information on GENYOUth.