Gimme Five: Scott Groginsky
This week, we had a chance to chat with Scott Groginsky, a Voices Action Center leader who is dedicated to making each day healthier for children. As the current Senior Director of State Affairs and Senior Advisor for Policy and Effective Practice at the National Head Start Association, Scott is working at the forefront of policy, advocacy and equity.
How did you end up here today, and what motivates you to work on issues to help our kids grow up healthier?
I have focused on advancing public policies that support children’s development and educational achievement for nearly 30 years, including in state legislatures, at the federal and state administrative levels, in Congress, and as a local school board member. Throughout all of these efforts, research and direct experience clearly tell us that children learn better, achieve, and thrive when they have healthy food and physical activity, which result in positive long-term societal outcomes, including cost savings.
Because children spend so much of their time in publicly funded settings, child-serving entities have a critical role and responsibility to provide young people with nutritional food and physical opportunities. Seems like common sense. But over the years, I continuously heard institutions rejecting this priority because of their demand for short-term revenues. I found such myopic thinking prevailing over the needs of children and too many policymakers protecting that mentality.
I took on the challenge of obliterating these obstacles because our world depends on it and soon realized how vast the groundswell of support is for systemically reforming child nutrition and wellness policies – in schools, communities, families, policy environments, and among children themselves. This has led to real changes in practice and policy at all levels and immense improvements in our lives.
How are you working to change the environment to make it healthier and create a culture of health?
In all discussions about health and wellness, I talk about Head Start’s long-standing leadership at ensuring that young, at-risk children have access to healthy meals and snacks, and opportunities for physical activity and education. I communicate with policymakers and their staff, advocates, researchers, and practitioners about the importance of maintaining Head Start’s strong nutritional, health, and physical activity standards and the need for states to model their early childhood policies after these standards.
What are your biggest accomplishments in helping children be healthy? [personal and professional]
At the professional level, I have helped strengthen school nutrition and wellness policies at all levels. As a locally elected school board member, I revamped my local school district’s policies by developing, writing, and leading the passage of nutritional standards for school food and wellness policies, reducing sugar, eliminating junk food, and requiring fruits and vegetables.
At the Colorado legislature, I co-led the advocacy (with the American Heart Association) and legislative negotiation to require healthy beverages in schools throughout the state and led the effort to ensure the State Board of Education establish the strongest possible rule on it. As a lead congressional committee staff person on this issue, I helped unite support among members of the U.S. House of Representatives to successfully reject an amendment to repeal federal school nutrition standards.
At the personal level, I have fun talks with my nieces, nephews and friends’ children about food and drinks, teaching them about their effects, and suggesting healthy choices, and initiate games and other activities that require lots of movement.
What is the change you would like to see most in communities, or where do you see the greatest unmet needs, in helping children be healthy?
Many community institutions and businesses that engage with children and young adults still need to increase their commitment to nutritious foods, including their products, fundraisers, promotional activities, and educational efforts. The messages these organizations and companies send to children have a lifelong impact on their understanding of what is appropriate for their health. Children are influenced greatly by community groups and corporations, so these entities have a huge responsibility to promote healthy eating.
If you were starting out in your career, what would you recommend to your younger self? Tip of the day from the person.
Focus on the big picture. Empower your colleagues and trust them. Express yourself precisely and thoughtfully. Boldly raise important issues and questions.
Visit the National Head Start Association’s website to learn more about their efforts to make each day healthier for children.