I'm in Atlanta, fighting childhood obesity. Right now, experts fear this may be the first generation of children who will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents due in large part to the childhood obesity epidemic. More than 23 million of our nation's children and teenagers are considered overweight or obese. It's an epidemic that continues to plague our country, but it can be fought and won.
I understand all too well how a sedentary lifestyle can negatively impact a person. As a kid, I was fat with a bad stutter and had zero confidence. But when I turned 13 years old, my dad bought me a set of weights, and it changed my life forever. Not only did the weights build my body, but it built my confidence and self esteem. Over the years, working out became my passion, a passion that I want to instill with kids and families across America.
Nationwide, the direct health cost to fight this disease is close to $14 billion a year. However, through education, motivation and inspiration, we can reverse this epidemic.
To help combat this problem, the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils began rolling out the National Champion Schools program state by state. Last year we awarded fitness centers to schools in California, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. This program awards a total of three schools (elementary or middle) with new state-of-the-art Live Positively Fitness Centers. Schools are required to show how they promote student physical activity and wellness in innovative and inspiring ways.
Governors on both sides of the aisle throughout the country are recognizing the importance physical fitness for their kids and have welcomed our program into their states. In fact, following our Atlanta visit, we head to West Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware, where the governors of these respective states will join me at local schools to cut the ribbons on newly-won fitness centers. What it boils down to is this: This is not a Democrat or Republican issue -- this is a kids issue.
Programs like this are having an enormous impact. Seven years ago, I launched an annual, month-long fitness challenge in California, and by 2011, more than 1.4 million students were participating. We got children motivated and put them on a path to a healthier lifestyle.
Making this program even more attractive and unique is the fact that Live Positively Fitness Centers are fully funded through public/private partnerships and does not rely on taxpayer dollars or state funding. Companies like Coca-Cola, Anthem Blue Cross, ROLL Global LLC, Wheels Up, New Balance, and TuffStuff Fitness Equipment are partnering with the foundation on this most important mission.
While fighting obesity is not easy, it can be done. By giving schools the tools, we can be assured of making great strides in battling this disease and the serious risks associated with it, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other problems that usually affect adults.We know that physical activity and exercise can help prevent and treat dozens of chronic diseases, enhance individual health and quality of life and reduce health care costs.
By applying a "don't quit" attitude to fighting childhood obesity, we can help create the fittest and healthiest kids in the nation. If we can help children become passionate about being physically fit and eating healthier, it will pay off substantially in the long run; not only are we building stronger bodies but also boosting confidence and self-esteem. Our children are our most precious resource, and it's imperative that we help keep them healthy and strong while growing up so they can lead this great nation into a bright and prosperous future.
The Foundation invites every elementary and middle school in the country to visit www.nationalgovcouncil.org and click on "nominate a school" for more information on how to vie for a Live Positively Fitness Center and be deemed a National Champion School!
Sharing a laugh with Gov. Deal from the great state of Georgia before we cut the ribbon on another Live Positively Fitness Center while we were in Atlanta. I had a great time hanging with Gov. Deal and his wife Sandra, who was once a 6th grade teacher.
Jake Steinfeld is one of the fitness industry's reigning icons, responsible for creating the personal fitness training industry over 30 years ago. He is Chairman and CEO of Body by Jake Global and serves as the Chairman of the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils (www.nationalgovcouncil.com), which supports state councils by providing fitness centers to schools across our nation.