Experts fear that this generation of kids may be the first to live shorter life expectancies than their parents thanks in large part to 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 impacts 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 Missouri alone, this disease impacts 13.6% of your children.
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 to 1.4 million students in 2011 who all took part in a month long fitness challenge. Over the course of seven years we saw a decrease in childhood obesity rates in California and as a beneficial side affect, 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 state-of-the-art Live PositivelyTM 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 like Coca-Cola. This year alone, we will be putting fitness centers in schools throughout Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, and Massachusetts.
The National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils program will roll out in Missouri 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 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.
Page 2 of 2 - 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/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 Missouri. I encourage parents, educators and community leaders to visit http://www.nationalgovcouncil.org/ during National Childhood Obesity Awareness month to learn more about the steps Missouri can take to participate in the program and to reap the rewards being physically fit can provide.
Jake Steinfeld is Chair of the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils and one of the fitness industry's reigning icons, responsible for creating the personal fitness training industry over 30 years ago. A street-smart entrepreneur, he continues to develop successful products, brands, and businesses as Chairman and CEO of Body by Jake GlobalR (www.bodybyjake.com).