For the past few years, the topic of establishing healthy habits at an early age has garnered much news, investigation, and governmental action across the nation.’  As centers for community life and lifelong education, libraries are uniquely positioned to contribute to the formation of these healthy habits in young people.’  Indeed, given the special role of social responsibility many libraries assume in their charters and mission statements, supporting healthy habit formation may be viewed as a necessity in your library.

The Indiana State Department of Health summarizes the need for and suggests a direction to library involvement in this issue:’  “Ideally, population-based, sustainable approaches for changing the weight status, diet, and physical activity of people should include creating environments, policies, and practices that support increases in physical activity and improvements in diet, especially among those disproportionately affected by poor health. Interventions should go beyond people acquiring new knowledge and allow people to build the skills and practice the behaviors leading to a healthy weight. Supportive environments are necessary to sustain healthy behaviors.” [emphasis mine] (Indiana State Department of Health 2011)

What follows is a list of activities young adult librarians can put into practice to stimulate interest in and action towards healthy habit formation with their teen patrons.

  • Book displays on healthy habits. (A classic library tactic, and it never hurts to cover the classics.)
  • Create QR codes linking to healthy habits websites.
  • Distribute dream journals with blurbs on healthy sleep habits printed on the pages.
  • Administer an online cooking challenge where teens upload a picture of a healthy meal they cooked.
  • Amend the food and drink policy to allow water in the library.
  • Serve healthy snacks at TAB events, such as popcorn and juice rather than chocolate and soda pop.
  • Display samples of healthy and unhealthy organs (such as lungs, livers, brains, and bones), as supplied by a nearby medical school.
  • Start a co-cooking program with teens. (This has been the most popular teen program at my library for two years.’  We have cooked smoothies, shish kabobs, hummus, baked apples, and more.)
  • Host tournaments for Wii Fit and Xbox Kinect.’  (For lower-tech options, try ping-pong, Twister, and other active games.’  The teens at my library lit up when I told them we would play Twister with face paint dolloped on the dots.)
  • Arrange for your local car insurance company to bring their impaired driving program to the library parking lot.
  • Host local experts in demonstrations with audience participation, such as yoga lead by fitness instructors or cooking by local restaurateurs.
  • Add library programming with a physical element: a college football boot camp, circus performer experience, etc.
  • Arrange a Glee with the Stars program where teens learn a routine performed by your local theatre or high school group. (Granted, this will take a great number of volunteers, a large space, and some very enthusiastic teenagers.)
  • Consider adding “healthy eating during pregnancy” and “breastfeeding and childhood obesity” to to your outreach efforts to pregnant teen patrons.
  • Work with your local school librarians and physical education and health teachers to limit the junk food and soda pop available to students at school.’  Perhaps you can even collaborate with these educators to recruit and support a chef for the Chefs Move to School Initiative.

Have you tried healthy habit programming at your library?’  Tell us about it in the comments.

Image Source: D Sharon Pruitt – Flickr Creative Commons

About Jacqui Taylor

Jacqui Taylor is the head of Youth Services at a small Ohio library. She participated in the 2011 YALSA Mentoring Program, and served on YALSA's Baker and Taylor Award Jury and Indiana's Children and Youth Professional Development Division.

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