May is National Youth Fitness month. Community collaboration is needed among fitness professionals, pediatricians, families, schools, businesses and youth organizations to lead children to a better sense of health and wellness, to find joy in movement and to inspire healthy fitness habits.

One in five children are overweight or obese and the number is growing. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), during the last 30 years this number has tripled, and the number of extremely overweight or obese children has nearly doubled. The crisis cuts across all ages, racial and ethnic groups and genders. According to the CDC, 13 percent of children 6 to 11 and 14 percent of adolescents 12 to 19 were overweight in 1999. In 2001, physicians observed obesity among preschool children as young as 4 years old.

Physical fitness is preventive medicine that can positively affect health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. The CDC states that exercise, physical activity, proper nutrition and adequate rest can lower the chances of developing coronary heart disease and stroke. Research also indicates the positive role physical activity plays in treatment of diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis and heart disease.

The risk behaviors and habits that lead to this epidemic become ingrained early. As kids reach adolescence they reduce their daily physical activities, beginning an ultimate decline into inactivity. Furthermore, school systems need help with their efforts to make health and fitness more interesting, relevant, accessible, affordable and fun. For the future of our industry we must provide opportunities for children to participate in non-competitive physical activities that embrace lifetime fitness habits.

Many organizations are committed to the cause. Following are some events that are opportunities for out-reach programming in celebration of Youth Fitness Month.

KICK BUTTS DAY

This effort is the largest youth-led anti-tobacco initiative. It encourages activism and leadership among students. Rallies and events take place in every state and several nations. Many businesses and government agencies promote the day and distribute materials to teachers and youth leaders.

TV TURNOFF WEEK

For one week, millions of children and adults turn off their TVs. The goal: to get kids “to turn off TV and turn on life.” According to the University of Michigan: Fitness for Youth, the average U.S. child spends 20 percent of waking time watching TV. Turning off the TV gives kids a chance to think, read, create and be active with their families and communities.

PROJECT ACES

As the world's largest exercise class, this global event facilitates millions of children exercising together on one day. It is a great way to motivate children to exercise in a cooperative group fitness event. The workout celebrates the lifelong habit of daily exercise and is a symbolic gesture of fitness and unity in a commitment to health and wellness.

ANNUAL HEALTH AND FITNESS DAYS

Families participate in health promotion events at hundreds of locations throughout the country to promote the importance of regular physical activity for children and their parents.

INTERNATIONAL WALK OUR CHILDREN TO SCHOOL DAY

On this day school children walk to school together rather than take the bus or car. It promotes physical fitness, group activity and pedestrian safety.

Numerous organizations are seeking partners in this quest for fitness. Schedule events at your facility or at a nearby location. Creative outreach and youth programming is more a matter of creativity than extravagant spending. Programs serve as more than just a customer service initiative; they also distinguish a health club.

Lashaun Dale holds degrees in international relations, philosophy and applied anthropology and continues her graduate studies at the School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York. She is creative manager of the group fitness program at Equinox Fitness Clubs. She can be reached at ldale@nyc.rr.com or by phone at 212-663-9209.

KICK BUTTS DAY
www.kickbuttsday.org
April 2

TV TURNOFF WEEK
www.tvfa.org
April 21-27

PROJECT ACES
www.projectaces.com
May 7

ANNUAL HEALTH AND FITNESS DAYS
www.fitnessday.com
Sept. 27

INTERNATIONAL WALK OUR CHILDREN TO SCHOOL DAY
www.walktoschool-usa.org
Oct. 8