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Community Voices: Prioritize happy and healthy hearts for kids

Christie Bruner

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Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

February is American Heart Month, a time to remind ourselves and our families to make wise choices to keep our hearts both healthy and happy. 

The past 12 months have brought many changes to children’s lives, including the way they attend school, how they interact with friends, and where they get their next meal. So many unknown factors coming together may cause children and families to experience stress and anxiety on a more chronic basis. As the American Heart Association (AHA) notes in their flagship journal, Circulation, “psychological health can positively or negatively impact a person’s health and risk factors for heart disease and stroke.” The AHA recently released a Scientific Statement emphasizing that mental health is important to overall health and heart disease prevention.  This link between various aspects of wellness aligns with the mission of Healthy St. Pete, the City of St. Petersburg’s community wellness initiative started by Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin in 2015.  Healthy St. Pete aims to build a culture of health in our city by making the healthy choice the easy choice through a collaborative community effort. 

Youth of all ages may be experiencing a sad heart in recent months due to not seeing friends or missing out on important social milestones.  Check out these ideas to help keep spirits high and give kids a sense of purpose:

Create a schedule for kids to participate in a video chat with friends or family members. Just as adults schedule meetings, appointments, and other important things in our lives, social opportunities for kids need to be prioritized as well – either physically distanced in person or virtually. TASCO (Teen Arts, Sports and Cultural Opportunities) Tech has created a video series to learn more about editing and shooting videos on your phone.

Make and deliver cards to an assisted living facility or senior center in your area. The Sunshine Center in downtown St. Petersburg currently offers both virtual and in person classes for older adults in the community and accepts cards for participants. When children have the opportunity to make others feel happy, they too can feel a sense of pride and happiness.

Denise Whitfield, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Pinellas, encourages caregivers to recognize the signs and symptoms of declining mental health in children including feeling sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks, difficulty concentrating, and intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities. Contact the Pinellas Wellness Collective for information about seeking professional help and services for you or your family.

Due to decreased access to physical education in schools and healthy food, children across the country are at an increased risk for an unhealthy heart and body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, 18.5% of all children ages 2 to 19, or 13.7 million kids, currently have obesity, and that statistic reflects numbers before the Covid-19 pandemic.  Try out these heart healthy ideas with the kids in your life:

The Healthy Kids at Home program offers curriculum guides for families and out-of-school time programs that provide physical activities, healthy recipes, journal prompts, art projects and more. The printable 10-week program is available on the Healthy St. Pete website with more guides being added this spring.

“The best way to get kids to eat healthier is to make it a family affair. Get the kids involved in meal planning and cooking – when they are involved in the cooking process they are more likely to try and enjoy new foods,” suggests Anita Jimenez, Culinary Nutrition Program Coordinator with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Anita instructs the AllKids in the Kitchen VIRTUAL family cooking workshop series, which is part of the Health360 program.  All participants in this free program also receive $10 in free produce to prepare meals at each class!

Design and draw an obstacle course on the sidewalk with chalk! This is a great way to keep your family active and inspire others in your neighborhood to jump, hop, and skip along with you.

Although everyone is affected by the Covid-19 crisis differently, we have a shared experience of isolation and uncertainty. Together with strategic partners, the Healthy St. Pete initiative is designed to encourage our community to eat, shop, live, and play health in a city where the sun shines on all.

 Join the conversation and be part of the shared culture of health on the Healthy St. Pete website and Facebook group.

Christie Bruner is the Community Engagement Supervisor for Healthy St. Pete.

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