Promoting Better Health for Youth Through Physical Activity

The CDC Foundation has received a grant of $250,000 from MetLife Foundation to support the development of guides for parents and teachers to promote physical activity among youth. The guides, to be produced by scientists and health educators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will outline practical strategies for encouraging young people to engage in physical activity and sports programs at home and in schools.

Youth involvement in physical activity programs has been declining steadily over the past several decades. According to CDC, in 1999, only 29 percent of high school students attended daily physical education classes compared to 42 percent in 1991. Currently, one in three high school students does not participate regularly in vigorous physical activity.

Inactivity has contributed to an unprecedented epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States. “The percentage of young people in this country who are overweight has doubled since 1980,” says Charlene R. Burgeson, public health advisor for CDC’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. “This trend is putting youth at increased risk for a host of health-related problems later in life - heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure,” says Burgeson, who is leading the CDC team working on the guides.

In November 2000, the White House released Promoting Better Health For Young People Through Physical Activity and Sports: A Report to the President from the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education, which presented, for the first time, a comprehensive agenda to promote physical activity among young people. The report, co-authored by CDC, was distributed to national and state-level health educators, however few parents and educators at the local level were exposed to the report’s messages.

The new guides, funded by MetLife Foundation will help deliver these messages to the two groups who have the most influence on the behaviors of young people. Sibyl Jacobson, president and CEO of MetLife Foundation, says, “Physical activity in childhood has many positive side effects - it helps build healthy bones; reduces the likelihood of smoking or drug use; and introduces children to teamwork, self-discipline, and leadership. MetLife Foundation is pleased to support this nationwide initiative to provide parents and school staff and administrators with the tools needed to motivate young people to be involved in more physical activity and fitness.”

The CDC Foundation will oversee development of the guides and hire the necessary contractors, while a CDC team from the divisions of Nutrition and Physical Activity and Adolescent and School Health will manage the project and provide technical expertise. Other groups, such as the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, will be invited to be project partners.

“This grant will bring together partners who are interested in fostering youth physical activity and making an impact on the obesity epidemic in this country,” says C. Charles Stokes, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “Combating obesity is one of the top program priorities for the CDC Foundation, and we are grateful to MetLife Foundation for providing the impetus and support for this critical initiative.”

The MetLife Foundation grant includes funding to implement a broad-based marketing and dissemination plan once the guides have been developed. It also includes resources for preparing a Spanish language version of the parent guide.