For half an hour on Thursday morning, 20,000 Alaska kids will move in sync.
Students from at least 96 schools across the state will participate in PLAAY Day, a half-hour Winter Olympics-themed exercise session connecting students simultaneously via video link to instructors in Anchorage.
“It’s pretty neat,” Ann Potempa, Play Every Day coordinator, said. “Because at 10 a.m., thousands of kids across Alaska are going to be physically active all at the same time.”
The event is a collaboration between the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame and the Department of Health and Social Services Play Every Day program, a public health campaign begun in 2012 to prevent and reduce childhood obesity in Alaska.
One in three Alaska children, and one in two adults in Alaska are obese, according to a 2017 Alaska Obesity Facts Report. Obesity can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and a dozen types of cancer, Potempa said.
“Obesity is a serious health concern,” Potempa said.
Play Every Day’s two key health goals are to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and promote alternatives like milk or water and see that children get at least 60 minutes of exercise per day.
PLAAY, or Positive Leadership for Active Alaska Youth, is aimed at helping kids associate that crucially needed daily exercise with fun.
“This is a fun way to help get kids motivated,” Potempa said.
At least eight schools from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District have signed up to join in the PLAAY Day activities.
“I want to start planting the seed that being healthy is something you do for your lifetime,” Maria Chythlook, a physical education teacher at Sterling Elementary, said.
Chythlook said students at the school responded well to last year’s event, which had an Iditarod theme, and are excited to join again this year.
“I just think the idea is amazing — to get kids exercising and playing and healthy,” Chythlook said. “Let’s face it, there are too many video games in living rooms.”
The PLAAY Day event is just one part of a larger effort to promote youth health and fitness in Alaska.
Thursday’s exercise session will be followed by a two-day professional development conference for adults who work with youth in the area of physical education. The goal is to create more informed adult leaders who can support the emotional and physical health of youth, PLAAY Director Wally Wilson said.
The PLAAY Summit takes a holistic approach to youth health, Jean Marcey, assistant professor of health, physical education and recreation at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, said.
The conference will include presentations on everything from sports life lessons to childhood abuse, opioid use and sleeping habits. Former U.S. Olympic Swim Team coach David Marsh will present the keynote address.
Marcey, who served on the PLAAY planning committee, said the conference will feature local insight from Alaska-based experts.
“It really shows the depth of what is happening here in Alaska to support youth in developing not only as leaders, but also as being healthy and trying to curb many of the things that are unhealthy,” she said.