It’s no secret that childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, has tripled since the 1980s and is seen everywhere across all ethnic and economic lines. But one group wants to reverse this dangerous trend.
Project Fit America (PFA), a national nonprofit agency, is trying to take a bite out of childhood obesity by donating fitness equipment to schools across the country.
Working with sponsors and groups such as kid tool for fitness, PFA installs horizontal bars, climbing poles, pull-up stations and other fitness equipment in private and public schools. Students are encouraged to swing, slide and sweat in a effort to burn calories.
"Fitness is a primary goal for physical education in the United States. Many schools don't have the equipment to allow youngsters to practice those skills," said Craig Cunningham, a vice president who works out of the group's Van Nuys, California, office. "This equipment provides that."
Since its inception in 1990, PFA based in Sonoma, California, has pumped $9.7 million into fitness programs at more than 700 schools, encourages physical fitness, and promote self-esteem.
While obesity rates for children have tripled over the past 30 years, physical fitness programs in schools have been slashed because of school district budget shortfalls and the need to drop such programs along with others considered extraneous or extra curricular.
"It hurts the child academically," said Stacey Cook, the group's executive director. "You can't expect a child to sit in a classroom all day long and not burn off that energy."
Every year PFA awards grants to about 200 schools from the several thousand that apply for grants, Cunningham added.
Upon receiving the grants, PFA installs seven articles of exercise equipment in areas of school yards that average in size of 45-feet by 60-feet. Teachers and other school personnel are trained in the use of the equipment as well as how to implement the program, incorporate it into the physical education curriculum, and includes urging the use of the equipment during recess, Cunningham said.
"You can set trends and attitudes and fitness patterns at a younger period of life," Cunningham said. "You want to build values early, and that's the place to start."