Web Exclusive - November 2015
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Generation Recreation

Catering Wellness & Fitness to Active Agers, Teens and More

Catch Them Young

While reaching out to the active aging population with programs that will improve their overall wellness is important, it's not the only way to make a dent in dire numbers around obesity and overweight. If you truly want to have an impact, according to the Trust for America's Health, prevention among children is crucial.

"It's easier and more effective to prevent overweight and obesity in children by helping every child maintain a healthy weight than it is to reverse trends later," the organization reports. "The biggest dividends are gained by starting in early childhood, promoting good nutrition and physical activity so children enter kindergarten at a healthy weight."

And, once again, physical health isn't the only kind of health you can affect. According to the National Institutes of Health, there is a connection between physical fitness and IQ, with higher IQs connected to physical fitness at age 18. The researchers also showed that fitness predicts greater educational and professional achievements later in life.

Various organizations are taking on the mission of engaging kids and teens in wellness activities. SHAPE America's "50 Million Strong by 2029" initiative was kicked off recently in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The initiative aims to ensure that America's students develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to enjoy healthy, meaningful physical activity.

"We understand the importance of keeping our kids healthy and physical active," said Alberto M. Carvalho, Miami-Dade County superintendent. "We have developed a variety of choices for all of our students to stay active, and we are thrilled about the new initiative promoting similar programs across the nation."

In Miami-Dade, 100 percent of schools are enrolled in First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Active Schools initiative. The schools' physical education programs have been recognized by Designed to Move and UNESCO. The Anchors Away and I Can Do It/You Can Do It adapted physical education programs have been recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama. And, every student in physical education class participates in individual fitness assessments through the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. Preschoolers even get involved, with an introduction to the joys of physical activity by professionally trained early childhood staff.

"Increasing physical activity for kids before, during and after school is fundamental to student success," said Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. "We know that Active Kids Do Better. They perform better on tests, show increased focus, attend school more often, and demonstrate a higher level of interpersonal skills and confidence."

SHAPE America has developed a website centered around the 50 Million Strong theme that features resources for teachers, administrators, professors, future professionals and parents, including:

  • Information needed to develop a comprehensive school physical activity program.
  • A Physical Education Program Checklist.
  • Guidance documents on The Essential Components of Physical Education and Appropriate Practices in School-Based Health Education.
  • Grade-level activity calendars.
  • Free podcasts on health and physical education topics.
  • Webinars with innovative ideas and tried-and-true teaching strategies.

"Research shows that today's youth are more sedentary than ever, and that physical inactivity is the cause of many health problems," said SHAPE America President Stephen Jefferies of Central Washington University. "SHAPE America is committed to providing health and physical education teachers with the resources they need to teach young people about the benefits of living a physically active and healthy life."

The YMCA of the USA's MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition…Do It!) program for 7- to 13-year-olds is another example of how organizations are tackling the issue of childhood obesity.

"As one of the largest youth-serving organizations in the country and a leading community-based network committed to improving the nation's health, the Y is determined to play a significant role in reducing childhood obesity," said Kevin Washington, president and CEO of YMCA of the USA, in a press release. "The MEND program will strengthen our efforts to help children reach a healthy weight, which will not only improve individual health, but also the overall health of our communities."

Y-USA selected MEND after soliciting input from national childhood obesity experts to help identify a proven program that could be implemented on a national scale. MEND has shown statistically significant reductions in body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, sedentary activities and improvements in physical activity. The program, which typically is made up of groups of eight to 15 children and their adults, creates a safe, fun and active environment for children and their families to explore and adopt proven methods to living a healthier lifestyle. Most sessions are two hours in length, with the first hour delivered in a classroom setting and the second hour focusing on physical activity.