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Celebrating Physical Fitness for All

Childhood Obesity, Fitness, National Physical Fitness and Sports Month | May, 30 2013

By: J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health

Fitness is a word that means something different to everyone.  For some, it’s a necessity.  A prerequisite for health and wellbeing.  For others, it’s a journey.  A work in progress.  An aspiration.  An opportunity.

For me, fitness is exhilaration: the rush of bursting from the blocks at the start of a 200m race; the thrill of sprinting down a basketball court in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.  Sports, I found as a shy teenager – and as one of the few students of color at my high school – was a means of expressing myself that often seemed truer than anything else, and an outlet that opened up so many more doors of opportunity.  As an athlete, I learned lessons about leadership, teamwork, and perseverance that remain with me to this day.

But committing to physical fitness doesn’t have to mean running laps on a track, stepping onto a basketball court, or even joining a gym.  It doesn’t have to involve fancy equipment or expensive gear.  And it doesn’t mean winning races or setting records.  Physical fitness, as I have told kids and parents in my work as a pediatrician, is for everyone.  No matter what you look like, where you come from, or what your means, you can get active and get moving.  You can make physical activity a way of life.  You can improve your health, and jumpstart a better future.

In the face of our country’s obesity epidemic, it is more important than ever that we inspire kids and families to make physical fitness a lifelong habit.  Perhaps more than any other health issue, obesity provides a clear example of the racial and ethnic health disparities that have been so costly for communities of color and for our country as a whole.  Minorities are far more likely than the rest of the population to be overweight and obese – and to suffer from related conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. Studies show that minority adults are less likely to be physically active.  Students of color are less likely to attend physical education classes on a regular basis.

Even as the Affordable Care Act is reducing health disparities by making health care more affordable, strengthening access to quality care, and promoting prevention and wellness, we know that minorities face many more barriers to health and fitness.  They also face challenges in many of the places where they live, work, learn, and play – places where the social determinants of health are stacked against our most vulnerable and underserved communities.  I heard the stories and worries of the parents of my patients as they told me that their neighborhoods and playgrounds weren’t safe for their kids to play in.

But while these issues are complicated, they are not impossible to overcome.  That is why, under the leadership of First Lady Michelle Obama, our administration has declared an ambitious goal: solving childhood obesity within a generation.

The First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign is bringing together community leaders, elected officials, educators, health professionals, faith leaders, business leaders, parents, and even kids themselves to bring an end to childhood obesity.

As schools are stepping up to serve healthier food in their cafeterias, and businesses are working to ensure that more Americans have access to healthy food, elected officials, faith-based organizations, and community groups are finding ways to promote physical activity in their communities.  And with the recent launch of the Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative, we are working to bring physical activity back to schools across the nation – because there is no better place to get kids moving, and no better way to inspire them to be physically active for a lifetime.

Already, we are seeing communities and states make great strides in finding new ways to help kids get healthy.  But there remains so much more work to be done.  In the movement to bring physical activity into all our lives, and raise healthier generations in all our communities, there are many more opportunities yet.  To learn more and join in, visit www.LetsMove.gov and www.Fitness.gov.

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