From the National Football League to the National Basketball Association, professional sports organizations and their athletes are realizing that they could have a positive influence when it comes to getting kids to move off the couch and onto playgrounds and in organized physical education.
Newest to the anti-obesity team isBoston Celtics forward, Paul Pierce, and a coalition of elite athletes from eight different sports who raise funds to fight children’s obesity as part of an effort called ‘nPLAY. A government tax exempt 501(c)3 organization, ‘nPLAY’s primary focus is to financially support physical education and activity programs in low income areas which statistically suffer the highest rates of childhood obesity in the United States.
Led by chairman Pierce, ’nPlay will further partner with local governments and community organizations throughout the United States to help implement its programs in and outside of school.
“I think it’s really important to be active in the community and show kids that it can be fun and rewarding to live a healthy lifestyle,” said Pierce,who visits school children as part of his Truth on Health initiative, as well. “It’s simple things like dancing in your living room or hula hooping that can really make a difference, and I really want to emphasize this to the kids. Staying active and eating well has been a huge part of my success and it’s critical to get in front of kids now to help them understand how important exercise and nutrition are to happy, successful lives.”
Pierce’s leadership is bolstered by input from other sports standouts that include: Jennie Finch (USA Softball); Grant Hill (NBA’s Phoenix Suns); Evander Holyfield (boxer); Summer Sanders (USA Swimming); and Jay Fiedler (retired NFL).
One out of three children in America is obese, and childhood obesity was recently cited as parents’ No. 1 concern. Being overweight has a direct affect on cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and up to 10 other medical conditions. It is the primary reason that the current generation of children will be the first ever to expect a life shorter than their parents.
“We hope to communicate our anti-obesity messages by getting kids to understand that their youth is their strength,” Holyfield said. “Kids are only going to do what their parents are going to lead them to do. We need to teach kids that if they don’t quit [trying] that they’ll reach their goals.
Holyfield said that peers’ influence effects children at a young age, as well.
“I have my three-year-old in gymnastics,” Holyfield said. “They walk the kids on the balance beam, do tumbling exercises, climb ropes and keep them active. It’s easier for kids when they see other kids being active. When they see everyone else is doing it, then they know that they can do it.”
Fiedler said the main thing to remember is that kids will exercise if they take part in activities that they enjoy.
“If a kid enjoys the activity he/she participates, he/she will want to continue doing it on a regular basis,” Fiedler said. “It doesn’t matter where the message comes from, but that we are getting kids more active and teaching them that they need to be conscious of their nutrition.”
Fiedler also recognizes that it’s important to teach kids the physical and lifetime value of fitness and downplay the cosmetic affect.
“The emphasis needs to be on the fact that health is based more on the way you feel than the way you look, and the best way to get healthy is to exercise and eat well.”
Finch said that as a parent, she finds teaching kids to live fit and the dangers of obesity are adults’ responsibilities.
”As a mother, nothing is more important to me than the health of my son,” said Finch, an Olympic gold medalist. “As parents, we are responsible for our children’s future. It’s important for us to not only set an example but to educate and motivate our children to live healthy lifestyles that will afford them the same opportunities of past generations.”
As an extension of ‘nPlay, Finch will be one of the athletes involved in a partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) MyPyramid program. ‘nPlay’s main nutrition initiative, MyPyramid was created by the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) to deliver messages that promote healthy food and lifestyle choices. ‘nPLAY will create educational visuals that integrate athletes with nutritional messages that can be used in schools and community group gatherings.
‘nPlay was established by career marketers who set out to collaborate with standout athletes to provide solutions and raise money for programs that help combat childhood obesity. Organization founders include: Michael Maccia, Eric Cohen, Scott Hunter Smith and Steve Conner.
Pierce, nicknamed “The Truth” and is the founder of the “The Truth Fund”, is also working with Olympic gold medal gymnast Shannon Miller, US Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir, current and former NBA players Jerry Stackhouse, Kenny Anderson and Bo Kimble; ASP World Tour Surfers Taylor Knox and Gabe Kling; former NFL players Fiedler and Sam Madison; retired No. 1 middleweight boxer Michael Olajide Jr. and Former USA Olympic softball player and assistant coach, Barbara Jordan.