Taking a bold step forward for public health and well-being, today President Obama announced his "Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition."
Now if that doesn't strike you as bold or important, allow us to take you down memory lane for a moment. Remember the old patch you'd get in physical education class back in the day for doing a certain number of push-ups, sit-ups and running a mile in a certain time? Sometimes it felt like you just got it for showing up because the tests seemed so generic and there were one or two kids who couldn't quite finish it but the coach might give them a patch anyways so they didn't feel left out. Well that is what the Council is, as they call it in the sports world and White House circles, and it has just gotten a huge makeover.
This makeover represents what change looks like and is reflective of the 21st century. This is a really BIG deal for a number of reasons. For starters, we know the power of role models on our young people in today's world, we know the great reverence given to sports heroes. So for the President to put together a rock star collective of contemporary sports heroes and industry leaders in areas of healthy living, cooking, coaching and nutrition from a diversity of backgrounds, each with an incredible personal story, is tremendously powerful.
Co-chairing the Council will be Drew Brees, who is nearly as well known for his endless charity and humanitarian work in post-Katrina New Orleans communities as he is for winning this past season's Super Bowl, and three-time Olympian Dominique Dawes, whose 10-year career on the U.S. national gymnastics team inspired millions of youngsters to go for the gold. With role models like this at the helm, expect big results.
And that's where President Obama has taken it to another level: by urging our youth and all Americans to realize that fitness and healthy living requires a holistic approach. We'll need more than one form of intervention to successfully combat the issues of childhood obesity, diabetes and other health problems. This challenge requires a multi-faceted response. We need to not only focus on obesity, but also more broadly on general fitness and nutrition.
That is where council members like Dr. Ian Smith will shine. Dr. Smith is the nutrition expert on VH1's highly-rated "Celebrity Fit Club." He also created The 50 Million Pound Challenge, authored six books, served previously as medical correspondent for NBC News, and currently serves as a medical contributor on Rachael Ray's show. His input on the Council could prove invaluable for reaching every American in this diverse effort.
Speaking of diversity, another member of the Council is Missouri native Carl Edwards, one of NASCAR's most talked about drivers. When he's not on the track, Edwards is busy working with children's charities like the Dream Factory and Victory Junction Gang Camp to better the lives of children living with physical and mental challenges or life-threatening illnesses.
With this overhaul of the Council, the Obama administration has assembled an impressive team and armed it with the right tool kit to launch that multi-pronged response in communities across America.
Something as simple as changing the name of the Council -- which previously was predominantly focused on sports and fitness -- to include nutrition leaders and cooking role models, is a sea change that should not be overlooked.
This is the jump start that our national fitness and health programs need to make progress -- led by a team comprised of role models from across multiple sectors: fitness, sports, nutrition, schools, communities, business, philanthropy, policy makers and others all working together to ensure a brighter future for our kids and ourselves. Look, the President even put some chefs on the team, and not just any old line cooks, we're talking high-caliber chefs on par with some of the world's best athletes.
As with all bold changes, time will tell us whether this effort is enough over the long run to make the needed impact. But the ingredients seem to all be in place for major improvement from the get go. The outcome will greatly depend on the co-chairs of the Council and new executive director Shellie Pfohl, who has a track record of success. What we do know is that the President is fully committed, and unlike in the past with other President's councils, there is the support and passion of the First Lady via her sister initiative, Let's Move!
One other piece that will likely be a strong indicator is how do members of the Council embrace their new roles? Do they see it as something they can add to their long list of accolades and just show up to occasional White House photo ops? Or do they commit themselves to finding innovative ways to represent the best of what the President hopes to achieve on this front? How well do they connect with the target audience through their tweets, their Facebook presence, their actions on the ground?
And, perhaps most importantly, how do they bring in their peers to help? Every professional athlete has colleagues on their respective sports teams, friends back home and in other sports leagues -- all of these people are potential champions as well. Several leagues already have active health and fitness programs targeting youth, including the NFL's Play 60, and NBA FIT! If you want to see what an NBA player does to stay in top form, look no further than another new Council member, New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul's Workout, an inspiration to all of us to get to the gym pronto.
Witnessing players in these leagues recruiting fellow "Champions" -- a program we've heard they may be incorporating to have a greater reach -- may be the ultimate sign of success.
The second indicator for success is how "industry" responds to this call for action. The government can tee up the ball, inviting the kinds of public-private partnerships needed to push this forward, but it is really up to leaders from philanthropy, state and local government and business to take up the challenge and build the grand slam momentum to inspire a health and nutrition makeover in this country.
We've seen it work well so far with the Council's sister initiative, Let's Move! -- initiated and led by First Lady Michelle Obama. It is worth pausing for a second to recognize that, to our knowledge, this is the first time that a First Couple have launched complimentary initiatives to improve the fitness, nutrition and well-being of our nation's children. That demonstrates not only the tenacity of the Obamas, but the urgency of addressing this issue.
In a time when there are so many problems that often feel beyond our control, here is one area where we can all make an impact in our everyday lives. With this overhaul of the Council, we've now got the leadership in place to step up and help show us all new ways to ensure a healthy, vibrant future for ourselves and our kids.
Now are we as leaders in our own areas of expertise ready to be "champions" and step up to do what we can?
For our children's healthy future, we hope that is the case because there has never been such an opportunity to move the needle forward like right now.
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