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Physical Fitness: It's a Team Effort

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Coca Cola ... Anthem Blue Cross ... CVS/pharmacy ... Kaiser Permanente...General Mills...

To some, this might sound like an odd grouping of companies. But given my experiences over the past five years, I can tell you that they are all committed to being part of the solution when it comes to childhood obesity.

As Chairman of the California Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, I have been leading a program to get California's kids off the couch and outside for some exercise. When Governor Schwarzenegger first asked me to serve in 2006, we agreed that we needed to do
something transformational for our kids, who were at great risk of obesity-related health problems. We came up with two simple initiatives: the Governor's Fitness Challenge, where kids pledge to be active for 30 to 60 minutes every other day for a month, and our Spotlight awards, which honor the unsung heroes in our state who promote physical education, physical fitness and good nutrition and health.

The results have been unprecedented. We have gone from 10,000 participants in 2006 to 339,000 last year, to 1,327,517 Californians this year. Not since the Kennedy Administration have Americans been so inspired by a call to fitness.

The schools joining our Challenge are reporting improved test scores, less truancy and gang violence, and more alert, engaged students. Once-skeptical teachers have turned into huge supporters of what we're doing after seeing the difference that a bit of exercise makes in a child's confidence, and self-esteem.

What's been especially satisfying for me has been seeing the prominent companies I mentioned earlier getting involved. In the case of Coca-Cola, some may question why I asked them to partner with us. I'll tell you why: because I did not want the world's most recognizable company to be excluded from our movement -- I wanted them to be part of the solution. I'm a believer in personal responsibility. I think that anything can be done in excess, and what's important is adopting a lifestyle of making smart, healthy decisions.

So I went to Coca-Cola, and asked them to help me give the schools the tools to promote fitness. Coke came through in a huge way by funding eight new state-of-the-art fitness centers . Anthem Blue Cross Foundation also stepped up to the plate when I asked for help, sponsoring our Spotlight Awards, and being one of our founding sponsors, along with Kaiser Permanente. Cable providers Cox, Comcast, and Time Warner are also on board and have aired our Public Service Announcements. The funding we get from CVS/pharmacy has allowed us to reward more than 100 participating schools with checks of up to $5,000 for physical activity equipment. The funding from General Mills has ensured that every student in California who is successful in our Governor's Challenge is acknowledged with a Certificate of Completion. Our friends at 24 Hour Fitness and Mammoth Mountain have donated free passes that incentivize California kids to take our Challenge. This means that the kids are actually earning their rewards, which helps build their bodies AND their self-esteem.

I sometimes read opinion pieces raking insurance or beverage companies over the coals. But I like to ask myself what makes more sense: to demonize a company, or give the company an opportunity to make a difference in kids' lives?

When faced with a problem, it's easy to turn a blind eye, complain, or point fingers. What's difficult is to get something done. From what I've seen, partnerships between the public and private sector are one huge way to accomplish great things. Remember, this is not a Democrat or Republican issue, this is a kids issue.

In our case, private sector support has allowed us to fund a tremendous program for our kids at ZERO cost to taxpayers, and give the kids some real incentives to get active, healthy and fit. I truly
hope that our next Governor is as committed to this cause as Governor Schwarzenegger is, and I hope other states will start similar programs so that the successes that we've enjoyed helping California kids get fit are extended to kids in other states as well.

Times are tough these days, but we absolutely cannot quit-on our kids, our neighbors' kids, or on any kids in this great country. Our kids are our future and we owe them our very best. Don't Quit!

Jake Steinfeld serves as Chairman of the California Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. To take the challenge, visit www.calgovcouncil.org.

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