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Awareness Is Not Enough—the Childhood Obesity Problem Needs Action

My parents taught me an awful lot when I was growing up—but physical education was never part of the “curriculum” at my house.

My father is one of those bookish types. As an Ivy League-educated university professor, he made sure that I had every opportunity to expand my knowledge and to experience the world outside of the small college towns where we lived. But although I practically grew up on university campuses, I never was exposed to sports or athletics at home. It simply wasn't a priority in my family.

I probably never would have discovered how exhilarating a good run can be or felt the team spirit that led me to join my college's crew team and intramural field hockey club if it hadn't been for my school P.E. classes. And without those experiences, I certainly never would have come to value physical activity on such a level that I joined a health club after graduation.

Although obesity continues to grow as a threat to American children's health, states and municipalities across the country are cutting physical fitness programming as non-essential. According to the last National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) Shape of the Nation report, only five states require physical education at every grade level and more than half (32 of 50) permit school districts to allow students to swap other activities for the physical education credits required by the state.

Since 2001, cash-strapped school districts (and community organizations) that want to prioritize physical education have been able to apply for funding through the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP), a federal program that will grant almost $80 million to “initiate, improve or enhance physical education programs” for children in kindergarten through 12th grade. In May, a congressional subcommittee approved a bill that would eliminate PEP funding in the 2012 fiscal year.

This week has been named National Childhood Obesity Week as part of an awareness campaign that the United States perhaps would not need if our children were better exposed to and taught to value physical fitness. In reality, one week is not enough to highlight the dangers of childhood obesity, given the extent of the problem—but in my opinion, there is little point in having any awareness campaign at all if we are not prepared to take action.

As members of the health club industry, we all believe in the value of physical education, even if we don't all agree on where or how our nation's children should receive that instruction. So this week, I encourage you to act on that belief in whatever way you find best. Write to your representatives to tell them that PEP funding should not be cut. Support, establish or expand a fitness program for children in your community who otherwise may not receive physical education. Share with your club members the benefits they receive by exercising and encourage them to share those benefits with their families. Teach the value of physical fitness to today's children and chances are they will be tomorrow's club members.

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