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Here are some things you probably need to know to get your community health initiative off the ground.

Evidence-Based Programs

Today there are hundreds of programs out there that claim to promote physical activity and healthy eating behaviors in young people. However, many programs make this claim with no scientific backing or evidence. How is a smart and concerned Kansan supposed to separate fact from fiction?

Evidence-based programs are those interventions that have been shown—through research and documentation—to have a positive effect on adolescent physical activity and healthy eating behaviors. There's some science behind the claim so you can feel reassured that the program can have benefits for your child, school or community.

And to learn what scientists mean when they talk about a program as "evidence-based," click here.

Below is a non-comprehensive list of exemplary programs that target pre-teens and teens. They all have some out-of-school/community component, as well as evidence of some demonstrated effectiveness. Browse the list and visit the links to see if one of these programs might be just what you're looking for!

CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health)

This program is designed for after-school youth groups and community recreation programs and has a large base of scientific evidence to support its effectiveness in teaching healthy activity to adolescents and younger kids. CATCH consists of classroom curricula for third through fifth grades, parental involvement programs, CATCH PE, the Eat Smart foodservice program and CATCH Kids Club (K-8th grade after-school participants). The emphasis in the curricula is on making healthy food choices through skills training. Goals include:

  • Increased physical activity during PE class and out-of-school time
  • Changed student knowledge, intention, self-efficacy, eating choices, norms and social support for healthy eating and physical activity
  • Significantly reduced fat in dietary recall and menu content analysis

The original Child and Adolescent Trial for Cardiovascular Health (CATCH) demonstrated reduced fat consumption and increased physical activity levels among third- through fifth-grade children in four states and 96 schools. Results were observed three years post-intervention and schools were still implementing after five years. A successful CATCH replication involved Hispanic audiences in El Paso, TX.

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Generation Fit

Youth who participate in Generation Fit "take part in community service projects that promote more physical activity and healthier eating among their friends and families, and in their schools and communities." The program centers around five types of activities that focus on promoting healthier food choices in the school cafeteria, improving eating and exercise habits, and using the power of teamwork to make positive changes.

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Adolescent African-American girls showed improvement in nutrition knowledge, low-fat eating practices, perceived changes in low-fat eating practices, and social support.

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  • Rollins School of Public Health, Atlanta, GA; (404) 727-7222 or

Hearts N' Parks

Hearts N' Parks is a national, community-based program supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Key elements and benefits of Hearts N' Parks include:

  • Activities that can be incorporated into a variety of nutrition and physical activity programs for people of all ages
  • Training and resources for recreation and parks departments to integrate heart-healthy activities into existing activities or develop new activities
  • Evaluation materials to measure the program's impact

Read more in the Hearts N' Parks Report of 2004 Magnet Center Performance Data.

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SPARK After School Program (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids)

This program boasts years of research and field tests that show its effectiveness as an out-of-school recreation program that promotes fun, safe and lifelong physical activity skills in 5- to 14-year-olds. The creators of SPARK have done multiple research studies over the past 15 years with positive outcomes.

  • Consists of multiple curricula that have demonstrated improved physical activity levels among young people ages 5 through 14.
  • Includes classroom and out-of-school activity programs to increase moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, as well as physical activity skill levels.

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Planet Health

Planet Health is an interdisciplinary curriculum focused on improving the health and well-being of sixth- through eighth-grade students while building and reinforcing skills in language, arts, math, science, social studies, and physical education. Through classroom and physical education (PE) activities, Planet Health aims to:

  • Increase activity
  • Improve dietary quality
  • Decrease inactivity

Materials have been measured for readability by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

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Team Nutrition

Team Nutrition is an initiative of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to support the Child Nutrition Programs through training and technical assistance for foodservice operations, nutrition education for children and their caregivers, and school and community support for healthy eating and physical activity. Numerous components support schools to serve meals that meet dietary guidelines, and motivate children to make healthy eating choices.

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Power of Choice

Power of Choice is a healthy-lifestyle, after-school program targeted towards adolescents (ages 11-13) and is a component of the Team Nutrition initiative (see above). It is designed to help build decision-making skills that promote healthier eating and activity choices in real-life settings.

This program motivates both the preteen and the leader by focusing on positive behavioral changes that promote their personal development and improved lifestyles as related to food and activity choices.

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Do More, Watch Less

A cutting-edge toolkit for after-school programs and youth-serving organizations to encourage pre-teens and young teens (ages 10-14) to incorporate:

  • More screen-free activities into their lives
  • Less time spent watching TV, surfing the Internet, and playing video games

Developed by the California Obesity Prevention Initiative, the toolkit was field-tested with, and designed specifically for, "tweens." Based on the research of Tom Robinson, M.D., Stanford University, the toolkit includes:

  • Lesson plans and instructions for staff
  • Handouts for tweens' use
  • Parent information
  • A summary of the research on TV viewing and children's health

The toolkit also includes step-by-step instructions and handouts that guide tweens through hands-on activities, including:

  • Tracking the time they typically spend in front of a screen
  • Embarking on a challenge to go screen-free for up to a week
  • Setting a goal to engage in no more than two hours of screen-based activities per day
  • Celebrating their efforts to reduce their screen-time

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