The Active Schools Acceleration Project: An Initiative of ChildObesity180 – An Interview with Emily Rak, MS

By Lainey Younkin, RD

It’s not every day that the First Lady champions a cause in your field.  Those of us in nutrition have experienced some of this excitement through First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to address childhood obesity.  As part of that effort, Mrs. Obama recently released a YouTube video to announce a project even closer to home here at Tufts: the Active Schools Acceleration Project (ASAP), an initiative of ChildObesity180. I interviewed Emily Rak, MS, N11, Project Coordinator for ASAP (and recent FPAN graduate) to learn more about this exciting national program that launched this past February.

1. First, can you tell me about ChildObesity180?

ChildObesity180, conducted in collaboration with Tufts University, seeks to provide an integrated national strategy and become a major catalyst to prioritize and drive the necessary systemic changes to reverse the trend of childhood obesity within one generation’s time. Founded in 2009, ChildObesity180 brings together national leaders from the public, nonprofit, academic, and private sectors who will use their reach and expertise to drive an integrated national strategy to prevent childhood obesity. The charter membership is comprised of senior-level national leaders from diverse sectors, including the CEO’s of the YMCA of the USA, Campbell Soup Company, and the National Restaurant Association and senior leadership from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the United States Department of Agriculture, among others.  The Active Schools Acceleration Project is one in a portfolio of ChildObesity180’s high-impact initiatives which aim to reverse the trend of childhood obesity within one generation’s time.

2. Tell me about the goals of the ASAP initiative.

ASAP seeks to increase quality physical activity in schools as a means to promote healthy, active living and to evoke the beneficial behavioral and academic outcomes that follow. Opportunities for quality physical activity, defined as moderate to vigorous physical activity, have been compromised in recent years due to many competing demands faced by schools.  Through a multi-phase approach, ASAP aims to identify innovative school-based physical activity programs, support and facilitate their replication on a larger scale, and achieve long-term sustainability for those programs in the school setting. In addition to traditional physical education, quality physical activity programs may include before or after school activities, movement in the classroom, changes to the built environment, or active transport – anything that gets kids moving.  

3.    I saw on your website that you are hosting an Innovation Competition.  Can you tell me more about it?

Our Innovation Competition stemmed from the knowledge that many schools across the country have identified a need for better physical activity opportunities for their students and are taking action to address this need. Rather than re-invent the wheel, the Innovation Competition is designed to highlight these great ideas in order to expand the most promising programs so many more students can experience their benefit. We aim to identify great ideas, study them, understand how and why they work, and then develop an evidence base around their efficacy.  For example, does the activity have a measurable impact on energy balance?  Ultimately, ASAP aspires to bring the very best practices to schools across the nation.

4. Can you tell me more about the design of the competition?

We designed the competition around two applicant categories: School Programs and Technology Innovation.  The School Programs category asked teachers, parents, and administrators to share with us how they were getting their school active. Since our target population is children ages 5-12, we asked for entries highlighting programs in elementary schools.  The Technology Innovation category asked developers, private companies, entrepreneurs, and research labs to share with us their technologies that could be used in a school setting to get kids moving.

5. What kind of entries did you receive?

We heard about an incredible range of innovative programs and technologies from our applicants. In the School Programs category, we learned about schools connecting physical activity with geography lessons by having students log the miles they have walked and run en route to far-off destinations; in-classroom activity dubbed “deskercising”; and even district-wide initiatives that have every student performing daily morning calisthenics.

In the Technology Innovation category we received entries for “exergames”; wearable activity tracking devices; technologies that monitor and encourage active transport to school; and websites that track and reward physical activity.  The diversity of programs and technologies in our applicant pool is truly outstanding.

6. How did you spread the word about the competition?

Information about the competition was disseminated through several different channels.  Our website went live on February 7, 2012, alongside a YouTube video announcement about the competition by Mrs. Obama.  In addition to traditional media opportunities coordinated by our PR partners, including a press release and direct mailings, we also got good traction in the social media world from the Let’s Move website, Facebook, and the blogosphere.  Overall, our dissemination strategy was highly successful; during the seven week competition window from February to April we received over 500 entries: 428 in the School Programs category and 88 in the Technology Innovation category.

 7. Wow!  How will you pick a winner and what is the prize?

An expert judging panel representing a variety of stakeholder groups are currently reviewing the entries; a complete roster of judges is available on the ASAP website.  The judges are looking for entries that are original, appeal to kids, are cost-effective, and, perhaps most significantly, show evidence that they could be replicated in other schools. The competition winners will be programs and technologies that are highly scalable, meaning they could be implemented in schools of different types, sizes, and geographies all across the country.

For the School Programs category the country was divided into eight regions, with one School Program applicant from each region winning $25,000.  Two Wildcard Winners from any region will also receive $25,000.  From this pool of Regional Winners, two National Winners will be named and will receive $100,000.

In the Technology Innovation category two Grand Prize Winners will be awarded a $50,000 prize.  The School Programs National Winners and the Technology Innovation Grand Prize Winners will all have the unique opportunity to work with leading researchers at Tufts University and ChildObesity180 to have their programs and technologies studied in a school-based pilot study.  Pilots will be designed to evaluate the potential of winning programs and technologies to motivate moderate to vigorous activity.

Competition winners will be announced on May 14, and an awards ceremony will follow in June in Washington D.C.

8. Sounds exciting!  Anything else you’d like to add in closing?  Will the competition happen again next year?

We have not finalized plans for future competitions at this time, but please check back on the ASAP website for updates about the competition and our future projects. You can learn more about ChildObesity180, the other initiatives in our portfolio, and upcoming job and internship opportunities at www.ChildObesity180.org.

*All photos from http://www.activeschoolsasap.org/. 

*This interview was edited and condensed

Lainey is a first year Nutrition Communication student and registered dietitian.  She is also an AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America) certified personal trainer and wants to help people incorporate small ways to be active into their daily lives.

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