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Businesses Get Involved to Combat Obesity Problem

BALTIMORE, MD — While it may seem to some that businesses aren't doing enough to help combat the nation's obesity crisis, some businesses are working with the government and health clubs to do their part in improving the fitness of their workers and communities at large.

A presentation called “Beyond the Bottom Line: Building a Healthier America — How the Public and Private Sectors Can Work Together for a Fitter Nation” at the May 2004 Club Industry East show in Baltimore highlighted some of these efforts. Chaired by Melissa Johnson, executive director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness & Sports, the panel session addressed the fitness efforts of three groups.

Obesity numbers are well known: nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and about 15 percent of children are overweight. Obesity costs America $117 billion a year. Intervention is necessary, Johnson said, but for intervention to work businesses and communities must combine their efforts.

Many private sector and non-profit organizations have found creative ways to partner with the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and its signature program, the President's Challenge (, in order to promote health and fitness. Local and state health departments and tribal governments can apply for grants to start up programs (

Ken Germano, president of American Council on Exercise and founder of Operation Fit Kids, joined Johnson in encouraging club operators and their staff to get involved in the community. He suggested involvement in after school programming, coaching, teaching, and working with Operation Fit Kids.

He also urged club owners and their staff to write to their representatives in Congress urging support for physical activity legislation and urging schools to emphasize physical education for children.

One of the groups taking Germano and Johnson up on their call to action is the Columbia Association, a private, not-for-profit, community service organization that provides cultural, social and recreational services to 95,000 residents of Columbia, MD. The association runs three multi-recreational health and fitness facilities as well as four tennis clubs, two golf clubs, an indoor swim center and other recreational facilities.

The Columbia Association provides 50 percent discounts on its membership rates to residents who meet Federal Section 8 guidelines, reaching 4,000 individuals who may not have been able to afford memberships otherwise, said Rob Goldman, vice president and director of Sport & Fitness Div., The Columbia Association.

The association also partners with schools to offer a points program for academic achievement in which children who participate in the federal free and subsidized lunch program can earn points for their academic achievement and trade in those points for admission passes for swimming, ice skating, miniature golf, and roller skating as well as for memberships at the clubs. At this point, 1,500 children are currently earning points.

A third community outreach program involves a 15-mile community bike ride in Columbia in which participants stop along the route to learn about the history of Columbia. At the end of the event, participants can watch demonstrations of yoga, tai chi and martial arts and sign up for memberships at the health clubs.

Coca-Cola also has several fitness initiatives in play. Triple Play, one initiative that will kick off in January 2005, is a partnership between the company, Kraft Foods and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The program offers a game plan for the mind, body and soul, said Barbara Beck, M.S., R.D., principal manager, scientific and regulatory affairs, Coca-Cola N.A.

The program gives students a basic knowledge base to help them acquire healthy habits. Students learn to become more physically active through daily fitness and fun activities designed to get them moving. The program helps children focus on strengthening their character and receiving reinforcement of positive behavior with social recreation activities designed to improve confidence and develop interpersonal skills.

Another program from Coca-Cola is Step With It! Developed in partnership with the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and through Coca-Cola's strategic alliance with the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the week-long program encourages middle school students to be physically active by giving them a pedometer and encouraging them to walk 10,000 steps each day.

Coca-Cola partnered with Life Time Fitness to put together a traveling exhibit called Actively Balanced Choices (ABC). The exhibit, which will travel to state fairs and festivals and to large customer locations such as Wal-Mart, is designed to educate and increase awareness of the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle. Set up in a trailer, the exhibit offers information about nutrition, physical activity and hydration, assessment tents, active play areas with an obstacle course, demonstration areas and education displays with interactive screens and fun facts.

Cities are also working on the obesity crisis. Gwen Foster, health and fitness czar for the city of Philadelphia, has created an initiative in her city called Health Trip, which is a 10-week incentives-based program. In the program, which is modeled around a trip, the participant gets a passport and that passport gets the member into participating health clubs for free on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which has led to increased sales for those clubs. The city is partnering with several fitness clubs to do the pre and post assessments for the program at their facilities.

These three groups have shown that public and private partnerships can work, said Johnson.

“Every person in this room can be part of the solution,” she told the session attendees. “The name of the game is collaboration.”

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