Time to wipe out obesity in kids

Posted: August 31, 2012

EXPERTS FEAR that this generation of kids may be the first to live shorter life expectancies than their parents, thanks in large part to childhood obesity. Today, more than 23 million of our nation's children and teenagers are considered overweight or obese. It's an epidemic that continues to plague this country. Not only is it debilitating physically, but it significantly impacts our already fragile health-care system.

Those affected with childhood obesity are at serious risk for developing health problems such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and other problems that usually affect adults. Each year, childhood obesity costs $14 billion in direct health costs. In Pennsylvania alone, this disease impacts 15 percent of your children.

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and it provides us with a great opportunity to openly discuss this disease and share insights into what's being done, and what can be done, to combat it.

Fighting obesity isn't easy and it will take a lot of helping hands to get us, and keep us, on the right track. Parents, health-care providers, organizations, educators and others are key to making a positive impact in the health of our children.

In fact, all of these groups were instrumental in supporting my efforts to launch a fitness campaign in California that grew to 1.4 million students in 2011 who all took part in a monthlong fitness challenge. Over the course of seven years we saw a decrease in childhood obesity rates in California and, as a beneficial side effect, schools that participated in the campaign witnessed increased academic scores.

The "California project" had such a positive impact on the health of kids that I decided to expand the program nationwide. We created the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils, which is a multi-million-dollar physical-fitness campaign. This newly launched program seeks to encourage and reward innovation in the field of youth fitness by awarding fitness centers to schools that use new and unique methods to promote physical activity and wellness.

Making this campaign even greater is the fact that it doesn't rely on taxpayers or state funding. It's fully funded through a public-/private-sector partnership with companies such as Coca-Cola.

The foundation's program will roll out in Pennsylvania within the next year. Our goal is to have fitness centers in every elementary and middle school in the U.S., enabling us to help build a nation that, through innovation and a "don't quit" attitude, boasts the fittest and healthiest kids in the world.

We know that physical activity and exercise can help prevent and treat more than 40 chronic diseases, enhance individual health and quality of life and reduce health-care costs. And studies have shown that physical activity improves academic achievement, increases confidence andself-esteem and reduces discipline problems.

I encourage parents, educators and community leaders to visit www.nationalgovcouncil.org during National Childhood Obesity Awareness month to learn more about the steps Pennsylvania can take to participate in the program and to reap the rewards being physically fit can provide.

Jake Steinfeld is chairman of the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils and chairman and CEO of Body by Jake Global.

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