As part of its work to promote health and wellness, the Aetna Foundation has awarded a $140,000 grant to the U.S. Soccer Foundation. The funds will expand Soccer for Success, a free, after-school fitness and nutrition program, to kids from low-income communities in Detroit, Houston and Washington, D.C. About 2500 kids are expected to enroll in the program.
Soccer for Success uses the sport of soccer to help kids from low-income neighborhoods be physically active in a safe environment and mentored by caring adults. The program teaches kids how to eat a healthy diet and the importance of drinking plenty of water, getting a good night’s sleep, managing stress and other healthy habits.
“We need to step up our efforts to make healthy lifestyles and wellness our top priorities if we are to reverse today’s rising rates of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions,” said Gillian Barclay, vice president of the Aetna Foundation and director of national grant making. “When kids learn good health habits at an early age, they are more likely to enjoy better health throughout their lifetime. Soccer for Success’s track record shows the program can make a real difference.”
Unlike sports leagues that focus on athletic competition, Soccer for Success is designed to improve kids’ health through fun exercise and healthy eating. The program runs after school three or more times a week for 24 weeks. Each 90-minute session includes at least one hour of physical activity to build stamina and fitness.To promote healthier diets, the program teaches kids about the benefits of eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Even soccer drills incorporate lessons about nutrition. For example, during the traditional skill-building drill known as “green light, red light”, coaches may shout a healthy food like “kale” to signal “go” and an unhealthy food like “chips” to signal “stop.”