Yesterday my kids and I attended a press event that addressed the crisis of physical inactivity among America’s youth at the U.S. Open here in New York. To highlight the importance of healthy, active lifestyles and unveil a set of essential elements for increasing the quality and quantity of youth physical activity programming in America, the United States Tennis Association (USTA), in collaboration with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), hosted the event. It’s a partnership with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative and featured U.S. Olympians Dara Torres, Cullen Jones, fitness expert Bob Harper, actress Christine Taylor, White House Asst. Chef & Senior Policy Advisor for the initiative, Sam Kass, National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute Chair Michael Bergeron, and Partnership of Healthy America President Larry Soler. The USTA’s youth tennis initiative is the single largest and important initiative in the history of the organization and they are taking on childhood obesity awareness in a big way.
This issue is of particular interest to me as I suffered an eating disorder in high school. I know first-hand what it’s like to have food issues and I want to do whatever I can to curb these issues with my kids as they get older.
Statistics of childhood obesity aren’t good:
*Obesity rates have tripled in the last 30 years. 1 in 3 kids are overweight.
*The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese.
*The average child is spending 7-1/2 hours a day watching TV.
*Only 4% of our elementary schools offer physical education.
*If we don’t solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others may face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.
The majority of blame for this epidemic is being placed on a generation that is addicted to passive activities. Sedentary rates are exploding with young kids with all the digital options kids have these days, which I have to admit my kids are guilty of. When I was growing up, we went outside after school. We jumped on beds during play dates. My kids are certainly addicted to passive activities. They are constantly wrapped up in a game on the computer or a show on TV. Even when they are with other kids now, they want to play on each other’s iPods, go on the computer, watch Nickelodeon. I see trouble. Each member of the panel had really good advice on what to do to resolve the problem:
Cullen Jones: Find ways to keep your kids healthy; be social; be active. Most importantly, have a good time.
Bob Harper: Every kid should get 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Inspire your kids to be active. Get them moving, work at it.
Sam Kass: According to Michelle Obama, obesity may be our great national security threat. The government spends $110 million a year on the fight. It’s a way of life that we have to teach our children, not a choice.
Michael Bergeron: We are suffering an activity epidemic and need to make sports accessible, more inclusive. A more resilient athlete has diverse experiences – don’t specialize early.
Christine Taylor: Raising my kids in a funny family (her husband is Ben Stiller), it wasn’t initially easy to get her kids active. She is a big supporter of “spontaneous play” and getting her kids on the courts has been huge.
Dara Torres: Beginning Sept. 1 through Oct. 6 families can log on to YouthTennis.com, which will list thousands of events around the country where families can experience tennis.
After the discussion, we headed onto the courts to watch the panelists play doubles against youth players from Harlem NJTl and New York NJTL.
And then my kids met Bob Harper. Nice guy. My video didn’t take, but I asked how to start a digital diet with addicted kids, like my own. He advised me to set guidelines for my kids and limit the digital intake to one hour a day. When school starts back up, that will be easy but I do have to make a few changes. The statistics are frightening and it’s definitely worth listening and acting fast to get our kids outside, get our kids active and make it fun.
I’ll keep you updated on my own progress with them as I set out to break our own in-house activity epidemic. As parents, we are active, but I think we’ll try to be even more active in the months to come. I walked away with knowledge that we can ALL change our daily lifestyles when it comes to getting healthier.