Along with many other proponents of using exercise to create social change, I believe that children’s health advocates intent on curbing childhood obesity must not only redouble their efforts with the food and beverage industry, but also spend considerably more time and resources promoting the benefits of physical activity for children. With strong evidence that distractions such as video games, cell phones and television are associated with childhood obesity, it’s clear that encouraging more exercise needs to be a key part of the solution to this national epidemic.
Of course, promoting healthy eating is an important aspect of the war on childhood obesity. However, it is only one tactic that warrants attention and spending. In a recent Reuters article titled, “How Washington Lost the War on Childhood Obesity,” authors Duff Wilson and Janet Roberts briefly discuss how the White House and First Lady Michelle Obama along with the Let’s Move! initiative have changed focus to promote increasing physical activity as a key component for combating childhood obesity. Such a shift is an essential step in the right direction. In reversing the childhood obesity trend, exercise shouldn’t be a footnote in the discussion; it should be the headline in the overall strategy.
Specifically, children’s health advocates should refocus their time and energy on creating accessible exercise programs and safe places for children to play. The U.S. Soccer Foundation, through programs like Soccer for Success, affords both of those opportunities. Findings from a recent study conducted by the Gardner Center at Stanford University show that Soccer for Success has a positive effect on participants. Here is what the study found:
- Ninety-one percent (91%) of participants reported that Soccer for Success helped them feel better about themselves.
- Seventy-one percent (71%) reported that they make better choices when it comes to food.
- Sixty-one percent (61%) spend less time engaged in video games and/or watching TV.
- Eighty-seven percent (87%) of participants said that Soccer for Success helped them stay away from violence and fighting.
Soccer is one form of physical activity for children that provides a fun way to improve overall health – increasing strength, agility and endurance– and serves as a safe, positive outlet. Programs—like Soccer for Success—not only help combat childhood obesity but also deter young adults from pursuing negative influences by providing them with safe and healthy places to play after school.
With so many children at risk of developing obesity related health issues, the time for action is now. Join me in challenging other children’s health advocates to “step it up” and emphasize the many benefits of physical activity.
President and CEO, U.S. Soccer Foundation