Guest commentary: First lady of fitness offers up an important message
By BRIAN HOLDING
In the book "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power," Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Meacham writes about Jefferson's commitment to fitness, describing his long walks, canoeing or horseback riding purely as exercise. Given the awareness of this Founding Father in the late 1700s, it is disappointing to read in the Feb. 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that today's baby boomers are less fit than their parents.
Unlike Jefferson's generation, when education was limited to the affluent, baby boomers have no such excuse, having been bombarded with the benefits of fitness throughout their lifetime. Yet when researchers from the University of West Virginia compared data from a government survey of health and nutrition collected from 2007 to 2010 for baby boomers and the data collected from 1988 and 1994 measuring the health of their parents' generation, they found the boomers to be less active and having more health problems.
The researchers found that 39 percent of baby boomers were obese compared to about 29 percent of adults in the previous generation. Boomers were also less active: 52 percent reported a sedentary lifestyle with no physical activity compared with only 17.4 percent of the previous generation. Baby boomers were also more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure and higher cholesterol than their parents.
The only good news in the report is that boomers are less likely to smoke cigarettes and are less likely to have emphysema or heart attacks. The study concluded that there is a "clear need for policies that expand efforts at prevention and healthy lifestyle promotion."
Well, more help is on the way. On Feb. 28, Scott Wikgren, the director of our Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance Division (HPERD), and I were in an audience of 200 from business, education and government positions as first lady Michelle Obama launched the Let's Move! Active Schools Program — an unprecedented collaboration among education, business and government groups to bring physical activity back to U.S. schools.
Not since John F. Kennedy was president has more support for physical education flowed from the White House. That's been evident by the first lady's work over the past several years and the success now in gaining major partners. The Let's Move! Active Schools Program will provide simple steps and tools to help schools create active environments where students get 60 minutes of physical activity before, during and after the school day. The first lady called on school staff, families and communities to work together to reach an ambitious goal of engaging 50,000 schools in this program over five years.
At the Chicago event staged at McCormick Place, Nike's CEO Mark Parker announced that Nike will contribute $50 million over the next five years to the program. Other groups contributing funds will be the GENYOUth Foundation, ChildObesity180, Kaiser Permanente and the General Mills Foundation. General Mills is the inaugural sponsor of the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. The funds will help increase the physical activity of kids in schools and communities as well as target advocacy efforts to inspire kids and draw additional resources to this important effort. Collectively, the other groups are committing over $20 million to help America's schools engage all students in high-quality physical activity. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education will continue to support both physical and nutrition education in schools by realigning its $80 million Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) to prioritize schools most in need and support applicants with plans to maximize their reach by building cost-effective, sustainable programs.
Human Kinetics will be very involved behind the scenes in publishing and distributing many of the resources that will support this ambitious program. HK works closely with the nonprofit organizations named by the White House to guide the development and implementation of the program: President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN); American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD); and Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
HK is involved with the PCFSN through the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. The PYFP has adopted two programs we publish: Fitnessgram (for The Cooper Institute) and Physical Best (for AAHPERD).
And as the publisher for AAHPERD, HK will also be involved with the creation of Let's Move! Active Schools resources. In addition, HK has an ongoing positive relationship with Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which has adopted a number of our titles over the past few years.
After outlining the program and extending her thanks to the partners, the first lady addressed 6,000 Chicago public school students. "We want you to understand, and I want you all to listen, we want you to understand that the only difference between all of you out there and all of us standing up here on this stage are the choices that you make in life," she said.
"It is so important for each of you to realize that every day you, and you alone, have the power to choose the life you want for yourself. Whether you spend your day watching TV or whether you use that time to pick up your books and finish your homework — see, that's your choice. Whether you fill your bodies with chips and candy or fruits and vegetables — see, that's on you. Whether you sit around all day playing video games or get up and move your bodies — these are all the choices that will determine who you will become and what you can achieve," she continued.
Now speaking more as the mother she is, Mrs. Obama concluded, "You've got to turn off the TV, move away from the screen. You've got to keep your body active even if that means just turning on some music and dancing for an hour. You just have to move. That's how you'll prepare your bodies and your minds for greatness. Did you hear this message?"
The 6,000 students quickly and loudly replied, "Yes!"
Let's hope this generation gets the message.
Brian Holding is CEO of Human Kinetics in Champaign.