FAR MORE THAN JUST “THE BIG GAME”

The legacy that a Super Bowl leaves a city, its communities, and its youth is the event’s real and lasting value.

by Alexis Glick, CEO, GENYOUth

I just spent the last week in the vibrant city of Atlanta, which is already abuzz with excitement about upcoming Super Bowl LIII, to be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in February.

I’m also privileged to be in this great sports town where our Fuel Up to Play 60 program is having its annual Student Ambassador Summit. Fuel Up to Play 60 is one of the nation’s largest in-school health and wellness initiatives, having reached 73,000 schools and served 38 million students. It’s the flagship program of GENYOUth, the nonprofit of which I’m proud to be founding CEO.

For the more than 200 Fuel Up to Play 60 student ambassadors, along with their adult Program Advisors, who participate in the National Student Ambassador Summit — it’s been an incredible week of wonderful leadership training and idea sharing to improve nutrition and physical activity in schools. For added excitement, over a dozen NFL players from various teams jumped in with the students to play games, give advice and taste-test student creations. Our students will leave Atlanta not just jazzed about what they’re doing, but with the knowledge, the guidance, and the skills they need to return to their schools all across America and inspire their peers to take responsibility for a healthy, high-achieving future.

Because the NFL was a founding partner of Fuel Up to Play 60, we’re privileged to be able to bring the excitement of the Super Bowl each year to the students and adult Program Advisors who are creating meaningful change in schools.

It’s our belief that the Super Bowl — as momentous a sports and cultural event as it is — is so powerful because of the legacy the game leaves in the community. For us it is a springboard to address the unmet nutritional needs of under-served students in the cities and states in which the game is played.

We unveiled this vision last year with Super Bowl LII in Minnesota in partnership with the Minnesota Vikings and Midwest Dairy, and leveraged that game as an opportunity to make the celebrated occasion “bigger than game day” by providing countless Minnesota youth with Super School breakfasts to start their days through the Host Committee’s 52 weeks of Giving strategy. Why the expansion of school breakfast? Because it’s vitally important to our youth’s ability to learn, thrive and lead a healthy lifestyle.

In the months leading up to last year’s Super Bowl, we were able to generate 3.8 million incremental breakfast-in-the-classroom occasions in 54 schools across the state of Minnesota — which translates into 30,000+ new student breakfast occasions per day. Over the next five years, that’s a total of 20+ million incremental Minnesota school breakfast occasions and as we speak, our work continues.

On the national level, only half of U.S. kids who get free or reduced-price lunch get school breakfast, even though they’re eligible. Nationally, it’s projected that if the breakfast participation rate were even 70% of the lunch rate, an additional 3.4 million American children would get morning nourishment.

Right now, we are working with the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee to build precisely the same kind of legacy around Super Bowl LIII.

The Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee has launched a community-engagement initiative known as Legacy 53. One of the five pillars of Legacy 53 is Youth Engagement — and I’m pleased to say that GENYOUth is honored to have been named the Committee’s Youth Engagement partner.

In this capacity, our area of focus is increasing student’s access to a healthy breakfast. Delivering grab-n-go school breakfast equipment grants to schools in the metro Atlanta area — improves access to a nutritious morning meal, helping to address hunger and food insecurity, and support academic achievement.

There are 1.7 million students in the state of Georgia. Of them, approximately 400,000 school-age kids are food insecure, and don’t know when they’re going to get their next meal. Georgia is ranked 13th in school-breakfast participation in the country, and, by various measures, Georgia has been ranked as the 9th unhealthiest state in America.

According to Deloitte’s Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis, for our youth to flourish they need proper nutrition that provides fuel for the brain. Students who eat school breakfast have been shown to achieve 17.5% higher test scores on standardized math tests, and attend 1.5 more days of school per year. And students who attend school regularly are 20% more likely to graduate from high school — so the link to success is an obvious one.

This is a real opportunity for Georgia’s students. So how can we enable their success?

Public-private partnerships are indispensable to child nutrition and in helping schools meet wellness goals, especially when school meals account for 50% of a child’s average daily energy intake. The interrelated crises in America — and yes, in Georgia — of food insecurity, childhood obesity, and physical inactivity can only be solved with the support of ALL stakeholders. And it happens best in the form of partnerships among school districts, committed health and wellness nonprofits, and corporate leaders. In fact, organizations including the Georgia Department of Education, the Dairy Alliance, Atlanta Community Food Bank, and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation should each be applauded for prioritizing increased access to school breakfast and driving progress in this area.

As they are across America, youth in Georgia are the most powerful leaders and engines of social change. We — all of us — are obligated to support them in creating climates of wellness in schools and communities, not simply for their good, but our nation’s.

For its part, GENYOUth remains committed to Georgia — our Fuel Up to Play 60 program is now in 84% of Georgia’s approximately 2,400 schools, and we’re working alongside the Atlanta Falcons to find more ways to get students active through flag football via the popular “NFL FLAG-in-Schools” initiative.

Super Bowl LIII has the potential to be not just a game for the ages, but a sustainable, powerful movement long after that game is done, to make certain that breakfast in schools can be provided to all students, regardless of their economic circumstances.

Please join us in accelerating progress by increasing access to healthy school breakfast. The cause is urgent, the stakes are high, and — for Georgia, thanks to Super Bowl LIII — the time is now.

To learn more about how you can support GENYOUth’s work, visit genyouthnow.org.

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Alexis Glick is the CEO of GENYOUth and can be reached at alexis.glick@genyouthnow.org