FAIRBANKS — Cold, dark winter months combined with an overdose of TV viewing, and time-consuming electronic games and gadgets all too often limit outdoor and indoor play time for Alaska children. That’s where Healthy Futures Challenges steps in to make a difference.
The grassroots initiative was started a decade ago by an Anchorage couple concerned with the growing obesity rate among Alaska children.
According to state statistics about three in every 10 Alaska children are overweight or obese.
Healthy Futures is focused on positively changing those statistics by promoting and involving childhood physical activity through schools and community events.
“Healthy Futures is unique,” said Fairbanksan Aelin Peterson Allegood, a spokeswoman for the physical fitness program.
“It recognizes all students, not just the top athletes. This is a chance for all students to be recognized for hard work towards being physically fit or physically active.”
Allegood became involved in Healthy Futures in 2006, and her enthusiasm grows as the program expands.
“It’s seeing the joy on the children’s faces when they cross the finish line and they get a medal; face after face lights up,” she said.
“Even the last kid who comes in gets a medal and is applauded just as much as the first kid. It allows students to experience success and that is such a wonderful, internal environment.”
In the decade since its inception in 2003, Healthy Futures has grown to include programs at 147 schools statewide.
In the Interior, Kaltag and Manley schools are signed up as well as 14 schools in the Fairbanks area.
Statistics for the most recent Healthy Futures Challenge — fall 2012 — tallied 9,833 student participants and 18,701 completed activity logs.
Activity logs are an incentive-based, record-keeping tool for students to record their daily physical activity. To qualify for prizes, the student must have 30 minutes of vigorous physical exercise outside their physical education class three times per week for a consecutive, one-month period, and/or participate in three community events, or any combination of the two to be eligible for the grand prize incentive drawing — a $300 sports package of the student’s choice.
In participating schools, a physical education teacher, nurse or counselor usually heads up the Healthy Futures program.
At Badger Elementary, PE teacher Renee Kazmierczak, has been running Healthy Futures for the past five years.
“Healthy Futures is well worth my time and energy to put into it,” she said. “There isn’t another program out there like it. It’s an opportunity for kids to achieve extra activities for a healthier life.”
It’s not unusual for Kazmierczak to have excited, young students stop her in the hall or while she is on bus duty to share with her where they are on filling out their Healthy Futures physical fitness logs. She sees the difference it makes.
“The kids who participate, they’re the ones who have a little bit more energy,” she said.
The Healthy Futures program incentives also are a big attraction to students, Kazmierczak said.
“They give incredible gifts. Last semester they gave out digital jump ropes. That brought a lot of students on board.”
She estimates there are now 200 students at Badger Elementary signed up for the three month, spring Health Futures program.
Monthly prizes for the spring program (February-April) include a clip-on blinking light, step pedometer and water bottle with an attached carabiner.
The growth in the number of schools and children participating in Healthy Futures is exciting for Allegood who visits classrooms, gives assemblies, delivers incentive prizes, hands out medals and coordinates community events.
“I love to do this. I am so thankful for this program, it allows me to motivate kids to be physically fit. It’s kind of a dream come true for me,” she said.
Contact Mary Beth Smetzer at