The federal effort, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is part of a strategy to increase youth sports participation and measure its many benefits.

“One focus of our public health research is to encourage physical activity for young people, especially at middle school age,” said Lightner, Ph.D., director of the school’s Bachelor of Public Health degree program. So when he heard of the federal effort, the school applied and was among the first organizations to receive the designation, in a ceremony Thursday morning.

A prime example of what the School of Nursing and Health Studies has done to increase youth physical activity is its participation in the YES Initiative, which stands for Youth Engagement in Sports, a Collaboration to Improve Adolescent Physical Activity and Nutrition. The program is funded by an $800,000 federal grant and directed by Lightner and Amanda Grimes, Ph.D., assistant professor. The program involves undergraduate researchers at the school and collaborates with the Kansas City, Missouri, School District and partners with Children’s Mercy Hospital, Truman Medical Centers, the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department and Youth Ambassadors.

NYSS logoLast school year, Grimes said, the program increased physical activity and consumption of healthy food by implementing an intramural sports program and a weekly nutritious food delivery within middle schools in Kansas City. This fall, Lightner said, the program has gone online. Students have received sports equipment to use and have been put in teams with goals and challenges. They also have tracking devices provided by the program, which can measure how much they are exercising toward their goals, along with heart rates and other health data.

Now, for projects like YES, the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies is recognized along with other NYSS Champions on as part of a growing network of organizations partnering with Health and Human Services to improve the youth sports landscape in America.

For the national recognition ceremony, Brett Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for health, said: “We know children who obtain regular physical activity gain important physical and mental health benefits, which are more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m thrilled to acknowledge the work of the NYSS Champions who are furthering the mission of the NYSS and helping to foster a lifelong love of sports and physical activity for our nation’s youth.”