Schools provide opportunities to foster fitness and fight obesity

We all like to be proud of our community. We like to think that we’re living in an area that is doing all it can to encourage healthy living.

Yet, when reports like the American College of Sports Medicine’s American Fitness Index (AFI) are released, we can see that our community may not be as healthy as we think. For the past eight years, the Anthem Foundation-sponsored report has provided a reliable measure of community fitness levels for the top 50 largest metropolitan areas. The report focuses on outdoor exercise options, along with rates of smoking, diabetes and obesity to determine which areas rank the best and worst in overall health. And while the report focuses on larger cities, one can put two and two together to figure out that smaller cities would have similar, if not, worse results.

While the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area landed at No. 8 on the healthy index scale, the overall obesity rates for the state of Washington exceeded 25 percent for children and adults. If Washington wants to provide a healthy future for its children, then we all need to work together to make a positive change — everyone from our business and community leaders to educators and parents. What makes the AFI so compelling is that it provides us with an overall picture of our strengths and weaknesses and gives us the opportunity to make changes NOW before its too late. Whether it’s implementing national strategies such as healthier nutrition in schools or statewide strategies such as Washington state’s Healthiest Next Generation Initiative, increasing physical activity options for children, is imperative. If we really want to see change, we can’t stand idle.

At the community level, I believe the best step we can take right now is to introduce physical activity in our schools. Not only will it help foster healthy children, but it will also lay the foundation for building their bodies, their confidence and self-esteem.

The good news? The National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils has taken action by helping schools become more active. We are delivering state-of-the-art fitness centers to elementary and middle schools across this great nation. In fact, nominations just opened in Washington state. Three schools that demonstrate innovation in health and fitness will be awarded brand new fitness centers later this year. This is all done through public/private partnerships with companies like Coca-Cola, Amerigroup Foundation and Nike; and better yet, there is no government funding and absolutely no cost to taxpayers.

Since 2012, our program alone has provided fitness centers and new opportunities to more than a million school kids and community members across the nation to get fit. Just think of what we could accomplish if we worked together to provide new incentives for children to get active and healthy. I’ve always said that when you give the schools the tools, amazing things happen.

As it stands, being idle has helped create a childhood obesity problem that is costing our country billions of dollars every year in direct health care expenses. Children who are overweight have a higher risk of becoming obese as adults. Individuals suffering from obesity are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol — both risk factors for cardiovascular disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 percent of obese children have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and 39 percent have two or more risk factors. Yet, obesity is a preventative disease.

Being idle has imperiled our children, leaving it likely that this will be the first generation of kids to not outlive their parents. As a father of four and the chairman of the National Foundation, I have declared war on childhood obesity. Don’t quit on your communities, and don’t quit on your kids!

Jake Steinfeld, a fitness advocate, is chairman of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils.

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