CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When the New Year rolled around many of us vowed to make 2013 better by losing weight and getting healthier. This commitment not only helps us, but it also sets a good example for our children -- an example that is desperately needed.
Sadly, more than 23 million of our nation's children and teenagers are considered overweight or obese. Experts fear that this generation of kids may be the first to live shorter lives than their parent's because of the obesity epidemic.
By resolving to eat healthier and become more physically active, our children will benefit by reversing the childhood obesity epidemic that is plaguing this country. Right now, in West Virginia alone, childhood obesity affects more than 18.9 percent of children (tenth highest in the nation) and the direct health costs to fight this disease nationwide is close to $14 billion. Yet we can change this. We have the opportunity and ability to influence the future of obesity. We simply need to become more cognizant of our health and the health of our children.
To help combat the problem, we are bringing the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils National Champion Schools program to the state. This program will award a total of three schools (elementary or middle) with new state-of-the-art Live Positively Fitness Centers. The winning schools will be required to show how they promote student physical activity and wellness in innovative and inspiring ways. The best part? The National Champion Schools program is fully funded through the public/private sector with companies like Coca-Cola. Not one taxpayer dime goes into the program!
We know programs like this work. Seven years ago in California, I launched an annual, month-long fitness challenge and by 2011, more than 1.4 million students were participating. Over the course of that time, the state witnessed a decrease in childhood obesity rates. And, as an added benefit, state test scores went up! Today, the foundation is building upon that success by bringing its National Champion Schools program to states around the country and we're challenging schools to come up with unique and innovative ideas to promote physical activity. It's a challenge that's gaining momentum! Last year alone, schools in the states of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts as well as the District of Columbia demonstrated their commitment to fitness, were awarded the title of National Champion Schools and for their efforts, received a brand new Live Positively Fitness Center for their students.
Now it's West Virginia's turn. By supporting this program, West Virginia can expect to see similar results. While fighting obesity is not easy, it can be done. And, because the Foundation is providing West Virginia schools with the tools, we can make great strides in battling childhood obesity 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 more than 40 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. Not only are we building stronger bodies but also boosting confidence and self-esteem. Our children are most precious resource and it's incumbent upon all of us to 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 state to visit 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!
Steinfeld is chairman of the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils.