GRF CoverGovernment Recreation & Fitness


April 2013
Stealth Health ...

Well established in the world of food service — and with parents who try endlessly to sneak healthier ingredients into their children's diets — the phrase “stealth health” has garnered some renewed attention with the recent announcement by the Department of Defense (DoD) of its new Healthy Base Initiative (HBI), which is aimed at increasing the health and wellness of the total force, including civilians and family members. As part of the HBI, DoD is working with the man who coined the phrase, Dr. Brian Wansink from Cornell University, in hopes of providing tastier healthy menu and snack options.

Beyond nutrition, though, the concept has the potential to be used across many military quality-of-life areas — sports, fitness and recreation. Using a little creativity and outside-the-box thinking, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programmers are finding ways to get children and youth more physically active, but in a way that does not feel like organized exercise, which to most kids is like serving them a heaping plate of broccoli.

NSB Kings Bay, Ga., for example, recently developed Navy Adventures Unleashed (NAU), an initiative that is putting a twist on outdoor activities in an effort to reach more sailors and family members.

At the launch event for NAU, Kings Bay held a kids' run, but to add some more excitement, programmers made it a nature run, with parents cheering the kids on and, in some instances, helping them navigate the many natural obstacles set up along the way. The success of this event got NAU Coordinator Miki Gilbert thinking about other ways to get children exercising without them being fully aware of it — sort of like sneaking vegetables into their mac 'n' cheese.

“The proposed plan is to work with our youth sports over the summer to incorporate things like that because now they see there is a need, and everyone is about fitness, combatting childhood obesity and getting the kids outside,” says Gilbert. “If we can get kids outside and challenging themselves to do things without them actually realizing it is exercise, we are so far ahead of the game because it is about a personal challenge and not about winning.”

The new Zumba class for families (including kids) at Fort Hood, Texas, is another great example of how disguising exercise as a fun, action-packed adventure can yield incredible results, as the class is always packed and is very successful.

These installations and MWR and child and youth professionals at many other bases are just beginning to tap into the great potential this type of stealth-health programming can have in the war on inactivity and obesity. And they are also connecting with today's youth by embracing the digital world, rather than trying to pull them from it.

For example, developments in the world of play and new playground equipment are providing many more options than just your standard swings, slides and monkey bars. Today, playground manufacturers are creating play pieces that incorporate digital elements, challenging both the mind and body in a fun and exciting way, and the military bases that are incorporating these new electronic play elements are already seeing great results.

With April being the Month of the Military Child, now is the time to evaluate your programs, brainstorm ideas and come up with a game plan for how to reengage the youth of today. Whether it is a new twist on an existing program, like at Kings Bay, or the introduction of a fun class for kids that gets them moving without the word “exercise” stamped all over it, your efforts will be rewarded with smiling, active and eager faces.