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

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Our nations young people are, in large measure, inactive, unfit, and increasingly overweight. In the long run, this physical inactivity threatens to reverse the decades-long progress we have made in reducing death from cardiovascular diseases and to devastate our national health care budget. In the short run, physical inactivity has contributed to an unprecedented epidemic of childhood obesity that is currently plaguing the United States. The percentage of young people who are overweight has doubled since 1980.

Physical activity has been identified as one of our nations leading health indicators in Healthy People 2010, the national health objectives for the decade. Enhancing efforts to promote participation in physical activity and sports among young people is a critical national priority. That is why, on June 23, 2000, President Clinton issued an Executive Memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education to work together to identify and report within 90 days on strategies to promote better health for our nations youth through physical activity and fitness. The President concluded his directive: “By identifying effective new steps and strengthening public-private partnerships, we will advance our efforts to prepare the nations young people for lifelong physical fitness.”

To increase their levels of physical activity and fitness, young people can benefit from

  • Families who model and support participation in enjoyable physical activity.
  • School programs – including quality, daily physical education; health education; recess; and extracurricular activities that help students develop the knowledge, attitudes, skills, behaviors, and confidence to adopt and maintain physically active lifestyles, while providing opportunities for enjoyable physical activity.
  • After-school care programs that provide regular opportunities for active, physical play.
  • Youth sports and recreation programs that offer a range of developmentally appropriate activities that are accessible and attractive to all young people.
  • A community structural environment that makes it easy and safe for young people to walk, ride bicycles, and use close-to-home physical activity facilities.
  • Media campaigns that help motivate young people to be physically active.

Strategies

The following strategies are all designed to promote lifelong participation in enjoyable and safe physical activity and sports.

  1. Include education for parents and guardians as part of youth physical activity promotion initiatives.
    Help all children, from pre-kindergarten through grade 12, to receive quality, daily physical education.
  2. Help all schools to have certified physical education specialists; appropriate class sizes; and the facilities, equipment, and supplies needed to deliver quality, daily physical education.
  3. Publicize and disseminate tools to help schools improve their physical education and other physical activity programs.
  4. Enable state education and health departments to work together to help schools implement quality, daily physical education and other physical activity programs.
  5. Enable more after-school care programs to provide regular opportunities for active, physical play.
  6. Help provide access to community sports and recreation programs for all young people.
  7. Enable youth sports and recreation programs to provide coaches and recreation program staff with the training they need to offer developmentally appropriate, safe, and enjoyable physical activity experiences for young people.
  8. Enable communities to develop and promote the use of safe, well-maintained, and close-to-home sidewalks, crosswalks, bicycle paths, trails, parks, recreation facilities, and community designs featuring mixed-use development and a connected grid of streets.
  9. Implement an ongoing media campaign to promote physical education as an important component of a quality education and long-term health.
  10. Monitor youth physical activity, physical fitness, and school and community physical activity programs in the nation and each state.

Implementation

Full implementation of the strategies recommended in this report will require the commitment of resources, hard work, and creative thinking from many partners in federal, state, and local governments; non-governmental organizations; and the private sector. Only through extensive collaboration and coordination can resources be maximized, strategies integrated, and messages reinforced. Development or expansion of a broad, national coalition to promote better health through physical activity and sports is an important first step toward collaboration and coordination. A foundation to support the promotion of physical activity could complement the work of the coalition and play a critical role in obtaining the resources needed to help our young people become physically active and fit. The 10 strategies and the process for facilitating their implementation described in this report provide the framework for our children to rediscover the joys of physical activity and to incorporate physical activity as a fundamental building-block of their present and future lives.

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