By Beth Cline
“You are what you eat, from your head down to you feet.” Many parents will recognize these lyrics from the popular 1980’s PSA series “Time for Timer” that ran during Saturday morning cartoons. Government programs have long been aimed at teaching children the importance of fitness and nutrition. While cartoon-style encouragement may have been the preferred tactic of the 80s, government organizations including the White House are seeking new ways to confront obesity and inspire children to be active and eat healthy.
The Presidents Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (PCPFS), begun during President Eisenhower’s term in office, promotes fitness to all Americans from local communities to the highest levels of the national government.
“Youth aged 6-17 need 60 minutes [of physical activity a day],” explains Melissa Johnson, executive director of PCPFS. “If there were a medication that conferred all of the health benefits of regular moderate physical activity, every doctor would prescribe it. Physical activity is the ultimate magic pill.”
Parents may remember the President’s Challenge as a part of their physical education classes in school, but in recent years, with the rise in childhood obesity, the program has evolved out of necessity. Designed to reach beyond the confines of the PE classroom, PCPFS encourages children to get, and stay active.
PCPFS has designed two award programs encouraging kids to be active every day. The first, for beginners, is the Active Lifestyle Award. It strives to get kids to participate in one of the nearly 100 recommended activities for 60 minutes a day, five days a week over the course of six weeks. By setting goals, making a plan and keeping a log, they are eligible to receive awards.
The second program, the Presidents Champions Challenge, uses the Active Lifestyle Award as a base and helps kids stretch the limits of how active they can be. Both programs award points based on length of activities and the use of a pedometer to measure steps. PCPFS recommends the following ways for kids to get started:
• Help children start a playground kickball game.
• Encourage kids to take the family dog for a walk.
• Sign kids up for a sports team of their choice.
• Walk with children to school, to the store or to the park.
• Look for new sports or physical activities in which children can get involved. Check outwww.presidentschallenge.org for some great suggestions.
The United States Department of Agriculture is doing their part to encourage healthy habits. In 2005, the redesigned food pyramid focused on fresh fruits and vegetables, encouraging whole grain carbohydrates and lean proteins. The updated website (www.mypyramid.com ) is packed with great suggestions for parents and teachers on how to teach children nutrition, and plenty of colorful, easy to understand material aimed directly at children.
Even the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is helping communities promote fitness. Through their website, print and television campaigns, the Center encourages children to create healthy habits and find fun activities. Try their Find Places To Play section of www.VERBNow.com , a great resource for everything from local parks to little league teams. Simply pick an activity and enter your zip code. Or the next time children claim they are bored, log them onto the game generator page. By selecting from a variety of sports equipment, locations and activities, it helps kids create fresh games to play with family or friends.
It is not just the national government stepping up to teach children healthier habits. In Arkansas, for example, Governor Mike Huckabee has helped introduce several new initiatives aimed at making schools a healthier place to eat. Recent changes include increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables on lunch menus and offering more low fat and low sugar drinks and snacks.
In Arkansas, changes are soon to stretch beyond the lunchroom and into the vending machines. Low-fat milk is quickly becoming an option in a world once limited to sugary sodas and fruit juices. Accessibility limits are also being placed on vending machines. For example, children can’t access the machines until 30 minutes after the last lunch period has ended, and even once they can, the drinks are limited to the 12-ounce size during the school day. By offering children healthier options, they are still free to make food and beverage choices only now with more of an opportunity to make good ones.
Even local government is pitching in to fight the obesity problem. Most counties and cities have a parks and recreation departments, offering members of the community affordable sports programs. For the beginner athlete, or an experienced child who isn’t necessarily a part of a school team, this is a great place for children to get involved in sports. Many also offer sports summer camp programs and clinics for area residents.
Combating childhood obesity is a battle being fought from neighborhood backyards to community playgrounds, and school cafeterias to the White House lawn. Take advantage of May’s celebration of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, as a chance for your children focus on physical activity and healthy habits at home, school and play.
Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run to be held during the last weekend of October 2006. Visitwww.marinemarathon.com for registration information. The one-mile run welcomes children ages 6-13. Beth Cline is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.