THE BLOG
10/14/2015 05:08 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2016

Empowering Healthy, High-Achieving Hispanic Youth

With global reports from respected international organizations like the World Economic Forum and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showing U.S. youth behind their international counterparts in educational prowess, public-private partnerships in America are accelerating efforts to close the nation's skills gap and improve health and fitness among the 88 million children and young adults under 20.

Game-changing initiatives increasingly focus on sparking America's youth potential, and there is a renewed focus on nutrition and physical activity as directly related to academic achievement. The public and private sectors recognize that empowering youth to be the agents of change for better nutrition and more opportunities for physical activity in their schools and communities is an important part of the solution - particularly for minority and under-served populations.

Fuel Up to Play 60, an ambitious six-year-old program of GENYOUth, the nonprofit I lead - developed by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture - is making wellness part of the game plan in schools across the country. The program reaches 38 million students from more than 73,000 schools; 13 million students are eating healthier, and 16 million are more physically active as a result. It has become the nation's largest in-school wellness program and continues to expand its reach and impact.

Beginning this fall, to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month, GENYOUth launched Fuel Up to Play 60 en español, with support from our partners at the PepsiCo Foundation. The aim: to reach Hispanic students, parents, and school communities with Fuel Up to Play 60's financial grants and new Spanish-language materials, including a new Spanish-language website. The launch of Fuel Up to Play 60's new Spanish-language initiative brings us a big step closer to helping the Spanish community by providing resources to empower and educate Latino students, parents, and communities to make healthy choices.

The urgency is real, and there is a pressing need to address the health concerns of Latino families - adults and children - in the U.S. And if we do not turn attention and resources to these problems now, they will only grow. One in four children in the U.S. is Latino. By 2040, that number is expected to be one in three. We know from Centers for Disease Control statistics that Latino children are less likely to participate in physical activity that non-Latino children, are more likely to be obese, and are at greater risk of developing lifelong illnesses associated with obesity and physical inactivity, such as diabetes. We also know that the Latino community's strong family traditions and emphasis on community connections create opportunity and promise for programs like Fuel Up to Play 60 en español to make a positive impact on the health of Latino youth.

I am of the conviction that culturally relevant resources will help organizations better serve Hispanic students, parents, and communities, and make it easier for them to get involved in creating schools where the healthy choice is the easy, available choice.

This new program promises to generate the benefits that the flagship Fuel Up to Play 60 program has triggered. It will continue to work with 32 NFL teams to involve NFL players at events in schools serving Hispanic youth, supply in-school grants and increase access to nutrient-rich foods and physical activity in these schools and communities.

In our pre-launch research, and in working closely with Hispanic educators, parents and students across the nation, what we heard from them was the need for, validation, encouragement, and excitement around much-needed resources. Latino students crave more examples of how Latino students are serving as leaders in their schools. And Latino parents care deeply about positively affecting the health and well-being of their children and supporting their children's academic achievement.

Public-private partnerships that embrace our youth in all facets of their well-being - educationally, physically, emotionally and financially - are critical to our success. The reason is simple: the health of any nation links inextricably to the health of its citizens now and in the future. With that in mind, we are pleased to be expanding the resources of a proven program to schools serving high percentages of Hispanic youth and their Spanish-speaking families.

As my colleague Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health (Department of Health and Human Services) wrote to me recently, "I believe that language should never be a barrier to battling childhood obesity, and I applaud Fuel Up to Play 60's commitment to bridging cultural and linguistic gaps to meet the needs of the Spanish speaking community, so that we can all strive together for a healthier world." Let's do just that by demonstrating that all Hispanic youth deserve the attention, resources and commitment of public-private partnerships like this to get the resources they so rightly deserve and so desperately need to propel a generation of healthy, high-achieving youth 365 days a year.

Alexis Glick is CEO of GENYOUth Foundation.

About GENYOUth Foundation
A leading nonprofit, GENYOUth brings leaders in health and wellness, education, government and business together in a movement to empower America's youth to achieve a healthier future by uniting partners, raising funds and uplifting the student voice. GENYOUth has established itself as a thought leader in youth health and wellness and collaborates with its partners to convene experts, conduct research, publish perspective reports, and build programs that make a lasting difference in the pursuit of healthy, high-achieving youth. Founded in 2010 through a public-private partnership with the National Dairy Council and the NFL, GENYOUth has raised funds, increased visibility and commitment to school wellness among health and wellness leaders, educators, students, parents, community leaders and businesses. Learn more about GENYOUth partnership, volunteer and donation opportunities at www.genyouthfoundation.org or contact us at info@genyouthfoundation.org.