The new chief executive officer of Indianapolis-based Jump IN for Healthy Kids says Indiana’s poor health rankings present the greatest challenges for improving the health of children in the state. Julie Burns says while the organization has many areas of focus, she believes it can make the greatest impact in childcare and schools by helping to give kids an early understanding of the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity.
Burns, who was appointed CEO earlier this week, says kids develop their habits about nutrition and physical activity by the time they’re five-year’s old. "So if we’re not in the childcare setting working with the folks who teach our kids about these things and get them to integrate best practices around nutrition and physical activity into their infrastructures, then we’re not going to really help the next generation eliminate this issue."
In December, Indiana ranked 39th in the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings Annual Report for 2016, an improvement of two spots over the previous year.
Burns says feedback from schools has been mixed. She says, while schools understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle among children and the relationship between healthy kids and academics, the schools say that is not their main objective. "What we’re really trying to do is work within the parameters of their world and say, ‘How can we can help you put these healthier programs or habits into your school systems?’"
Burns says implementing these efforts is challenging and change won’t come overnight. However, she says new national food program requirements have had a tremendous impact and schools are also finding ways to implement physical activity in classrooms outside of physical education classes.
Burns says the reaction from schools has been mixed.