Physical inactivity and poor nutrition are major public health issues contributing to high rates of childhood obesity, cardiovascular diseases, Type II Diabetes, and cancer. Schools play a critical role in supporting children’s health by providing access to opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating.
Despite the numerous benefits of healthy lifestyle behaviors, only about 25% of children and youth 6-15 years of age are meeting physical activity guideline recommendations (≥60 minutes/day of moderate to vigorous activity on ≥5 days/week). In addition, only 40% and 7% of children are consuming the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, respectively. The NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project was developed to address these health concerns by utilizing a collective impact model that integrates the NFL PLAY 60 programming designed to improve the health and well-being of the whole child. In 2019, The Cooper Institute in collaboration with NFL PLAY 60 partners (Fuel Up to Play 60, American Heart Association, and NFL FLAG) designed a structured implementation of youth programming that focuses on physical fitness, physical activity, and nutrition.
The Cooper Institute has worked closely with NFL PLAY 60 partner organizations to develop a recruitment and implementation model that allows teachers to effectively carry out each of the major NFL PLAY 60 programs and measure their impact on health-related fitness and healthy behaviors through the FitnessGram assessment and project surveys.
The NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project team worked closely with NFL Clubs, NFL PLAY 60 partner organizations, and regional school districts to select 10 schools per NFL market to participate in this robust project. The ultimate goal was to enroll schools from sixteen markets (160 schools) on an annual basis. The overarching goal of the project was to assist schools in providing healthy lifestyle resources and sustainable programming to their students, families, educators, and communities.
During the 2019 – 2020 school year, the NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project continued to reach a large number of students across the nation. Programmatic surveys revealed healthful school environment trends where an increase in school wellness committees, faculty/staff wellness programs, and physical activity and healthy nutrition promotions was noted. In addition to surveys, teachers conducted the FitnessGram assessment in 314 schools resulting in a robust sample of ~100,000 students.
Youth participating in the NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project demonstrated an improvement in aerobic capacity and musculoskeletal fitness while maintaining the BMI levels of their students. Lastly, the analyses of the 2019 – 2020 data revealed that teacher-driven programming supports the existence of the NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project, meaning that successful implementation of evidence-based programming begins at the teacher level. These preliminary findings are of particular importance as schools participating in the NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project continued to effectively implement programming and improve the health of their students even in the face of a pandemic.
We plan to gain a better understanding about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted schools during the 2020-21 school year. More specifically, we are collecting data to assess school environments and COVID-19 safety procedures, and plan to examine how the learning formats (in-person, virtual, and hybrid) may impact health promotion efforts in schools.
By expanding the project to an additional 160 schools during the upcoming school year, the future annual evaluation analyses will examine further trends and impact of NFL PLAY 60 programming on youth physical fitness, recess/physical activity policy, and school environment. Additionally, with a greater focus on enrollment of low socioeconomic schools, future evaluation efforts will focus on best practices for improving the health and fitness of underserved communities through evidence-based programs.