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The Boys & Girls Clubs Of America Fight Childhood Obesity

Dr. Val & Olympic Gymnast Shawn Johnson

Dr. Val & Olympic Gymnast Shawn Johnson

Because of obesity, this generation of children may be the first in US history to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. The CDC reports that teen obesity rates are growing exponentially, having tripled in the past 20 years. We also know that 70% of obese children become obese adults, and that 75% of our healthcare dollars are spent on chronic disease management – diseases that are 80% preventable with lifestyle modifications. Efforts to curb healthcare costs are unlikely to succeed without addressing America’s obesity epidemic.

So who is addressing the obesity crisis now? One shining example is the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). They recognized the impact of obesity on their club members and looked for ways to increase physical activity levels, encourage healthy eating, and repair self esteem in America’s underprivileged youth. After consulting with the Department of Health and Human Services (and obtaining funding from the Coca-Cola company), the BGCA created a multi-faceted initiative, called Triple Play, to combat overweight and obesity. The results are very encouraging.

After 2 years, an analysis of over 2,250 club members suggests that 90% of youth enrolled in the program met the daily, federal physical activity recommendations while a significant number improved their nutritional status, choosing to eat significantly more fruits and vegetables. Perhaps most interestingly, the participants also scored higher on tests of “self-mastery” which are correlated with self esteem and social skills. Overall, girls were impacted more strongly by the program than boys, though the reason for this is unclear.

I had the honor of moderating a panel of experts who discussed the impact of Triple Play on BGCA members. In attendance were Olympic gold medalists Shawn Johnson, Dominique Dawes, and Dr. Tenley Albright in addition to SVP of BGCA, Judith Pickens, former Club kid and Youth of the Year, Stacey Walker, and Chris Spain from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. It was heartening to see that there are programs that can bend the obesity curve – because success in this area of disease prevention has been hard to come by.

I hope that healthcare reformers will carefully consider the impact of obesity-driven chronic disease, and look to program success stories like Triple Play as a means to affect long-term improvements of America’s health. Our kids’ lives and the future productivity of our country are dependent upon the implementation of prevention programs that work. Cheers to BGCA for leading the charge against childhood obesity!

Congressman, Olympian, Colombian, Canadian: Fighting Obesity Through The Boys & Girls Clubs Of America

Rep. Steny Hoyer & Dr. Val

Rep. Steny Hoyer & Dr. Val

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer offered the keynote speech at the Youth of the Year awards for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). Rep. Hoyer was himself a member of the club in his late teens, and credits it for turning his life around and setting him up for career success.

Rep. Hoyer reminded the audience about how critical it is for young Americans to have positive role models, a safe place to socialize, and adults who believe in them. The BGCA is also involved in reducing and preventing childhood obesity – a national crisis of great medical importance.


Carolina Correa & Dr. Val

Carolina Correa & Dr. Val

Young Carolina Correa, the 2009 Northeast Region Youth of the Year, introduced herself to me at the event. She was bright and confident – and it was only during her speech to the crowd that I discovered that she had survived a triple family homicide in Colombia, moved to the US with her mom and ailing step dad, and worked as a child laborer to provide for her family and younger brother. Thanks to the Boys & Girls Clubs, she managed to overcome all her obstacles and find peace in the midst of her personal storm, achieving academic and athletic excellence in the process.


Dominique Dawes & Dr. Val

Dominique Dawes & Dr. Val

Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes is a strong supporter of the BGCA – and helps to inspire young members to get fit and pursue athletic careers.

Tomorrow I’ll be moderating the Be Healthy event on behalf of the BGCA. A panel of experts will be revealing promising new research results – demonstrating how BGCA’s Triple Play program has dramatically reduced obesity rates among those who enroll in the program.

With 70% of obese children becoming obese adults, and obesity itself costing at least 10% of all healthcare spending – any program that bends the obesity curve is welcome news. So stay tuned for more coverage on BGCA’s approach to helping kids get fit – and developing lifelong character in the process.

I myself am humbled to spend time with youth (like Carolina) of such character and perseverance. They are truly inspirational.

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