Experts fear that this generation of kids may be the first to live shorter life expectancies than their parents, in large part because of the childhood obesity epidemic.
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 affects our already-fragile health-care system. Simply put, we can’t afford to let this epidemic grow.
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 Georgia alone, this disease affects 21.3 percent of your children, the second-highest in the nation.
Over the years, I’ve dedicated my efforts to raising awareness about childhood obesity and have made progress on this front. However, we have a long way to go. 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, 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 in 2011 to 1.4 million students, 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 multimillion-dollar physical fitness campaign. This newly launched program seeks to encourage and reward innovation in the field of youth fitness by awarding state-of-the-art fitness centers to schools that use new and unique methods to promote student 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. This year alone, we will be putting fitness centers in schools throughout Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts.
THE NATIONAL Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils program will roll out in Georgia within the next year, and will eventually include all 50 states. Our goal is to have fitness centers in every elementary and middle school in the United States, 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.
As the nation recognizes September as National Childhood Obesity Month, we can celebrate knowing that we are tackling this issue head-on and that the more people we get on board, the greater success we will have in making childhood obesity a thing of the past.
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 and self-esteem; and reduces discipline problems.
I’ve always believed that academics and fitness go hand in hand, and if you provide the schools with the tools, students will excel beyond their wildest dreams. What’s clear is that if we can help students become passionate about being physically fit, it will pay off substantially in the long run.
My motto in life has always been, “Don’t quit!” Don’t quit on yourself, don’t quit on your family and don’t quit on the great state of Georgia. I encourage parents, educators and community leaders to visit nationalgovcouncil.org during National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month to learn more about the steps Georgia can take to participate in the program and to reap the rewards being physically fit can provide.
(The writer is chairman of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils, and best known as the creator of a line of fitness equipment and as the host of a
syndicated TV show, both called Body by Jake.)