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Child's Play

I have read a couple of articles lately that have me slightly optimistic. These articles show some innovative and aggressive ideas in getting children to eat healthier at school (and hopefully outside of school too).

Obviously, something needs to be done about children's eating habits. Statistics show that America's youth are (perhaps this isn't PC) FAT. While it may not be PC, as a former fat (back then they called it husky) kid who weighed as much as 250 pounds with a 48-inch waist in high school, I speak from experience and concern (especially since my 14-month-old son loves his food — luckily it is fish and veggies that are his favorite so far). Nationally, about 15 percent of children and adolescents between the ages six and 19 are obese, according to government figures — this is an alarming statistic.

One of the initiatives I read about is the Atkins Youth Initiative in the May 3 issue of Newsweek. The Atkins Youth Initiative is a plan to encourage schools to take a new approach to food, in both the classroom and the cafeteria by focusing on eliminating empty carbs — a big no-no for adult Atkins disciples. While I'm not a big fan of kids eating bacon-wrapped sausage (which the article says isn't a mainstay of the program, although some schools have offered bunless burgers), encouraging healthier eating like grilled chicken, salads and fresh fruit is not at all a bad thing.

There was another story by the Associated Press that highlighted the Nathan Hale School in New Haven, CT that has become a junk food-free school under an initiative the school district has implemented. Again, vending machines with yogurt, fruit, water and other healthy choices instead of M&M's, Milky Ways and soda are not a bad thing. Neither are the educational components of both of these programs (perhaps the most important part of either program).

Granted, the change in food choices may hurt schools financially (lower revenues from vending machines; and although they aren't selling Atkins-branded foods to schools at present, Atkins Nutritionals Inc. is a for-profit company so…) but if initiatives like this help make inroads into the obesity epidemic in the United States, great. But what about burning off those calories, no matter how healthy the foods are that they come from?

While the New Haven school district does have a physical education requirement, according to Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo, communications director; there are too many others that don't. In fact, Illinois is the only state that has a mandatory physical education program for kids in grades kindergarten through 12.

This is where — both working with schools and outside of the system — fitness facilities and fitness professionals have the opportunity to make a difference in the health and welfare of the nation's youth.

If your school district (you do monitor these things, right?) is implementing these healthy eating plans, anti-obesity initiatives or physical education programs (funded or not) it is each club's and the industry's chance to pick up the mantle and make a difference by creating a healthier next generation. Not to mention the next generation of members and fitness professionals.

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