Program seeks to get young people active

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Healthy bones, strong joints, less fat, more muscle mass &045; the fitness guru talking to his client? No. Guess again. It’s two of the country’s biggest and most influential health-related organizations calling on parents, youth organizations and educators to promote physical activity among children.

Certainly not the first time children have been the target of health projects, the new VERB program nevertheless puts a serious and nationwide problem into some perspective for those who are interested in helping children become healthier now for a healthier future.

What triggered the idea of VERB, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were some astounding statistics that showed the need to get youngsters away from the television set and computer and out onto the playground or into the backyard.

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Here are some of the problems found in recent years.

4Only 32 percent of children in the United States attend physical education classes daily, down from 42 percent in 1991.

4Nearly half of young people aged 12 to 21 years do not regularly engage in vigorous physical activity. This figure declines as children age.

4The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

4Lack of physical activity among young people may be one factor responsible for the steep increases in the number of overweight children and the emergence of Type 2 diabetes.

4Young people spend an average of six hours a day with media &045; television, radio and Internet.

4By age 13, 25 percent of youngsters have smoked a cigarette and 31 percent have drunk an alcoholic beverage.

The campaign to let the public know about VERB has begun. Objectives are to get young people interested in physical activities and to educate them about the harm of spending too much time in sedentary activities.

The program is targeting particularly the group between ages 9 and 13, starting with the parents. What can parents do to get started on changing attitudes and habits of their less active children?.

4First, limit screen time to no more than one to two hours of quality programs per day. The first step to that new rule might be to remove the television set from children’s bedrooms if they have them.

4Teach children by example to volunteer, such as at the Humane Society, performing odd jobs such as sweeping floors, raking grounds or organizing supplies.

4Work with school officials to be sure all children, not just the athletically talented children, have generous opportunity for physical activity during the school day.

4Form coalitions to work for better places for young people to enjoy physical activities &045; more parks, better sidewalks and safe neighborhood play areas.

Children should participate in a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day.

Come to think of it &045; healthy bones, strong joints, less fat, more muscle mass &045; what’s good for the 12-year-old is good for the rest of us. Too many children today are inactive, unfit and overstressed. They have had good role models. Check out the campaign to make changes in the lifestyles of sedentary youth:

Joan Gandy

is community editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at (601) 445-3549 or by e-mail at