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April 08, 2013

Get Kids Moving Now, They’ll Grow Up Healthy

The following is an opinion-editorial piece by Dr. Jay Schukman, M.D., chief medical director, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Virginia

When was the last time you walked into a room full of kids and saw them moving around rather than sitting on their backsides playing video games?

As medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, I often travel around the state and visit companies that offer our health insurance to their employees. It’s always interesting to learn what companies are doing when it comes to wellness in the workplace help its employees live a healthier life.

Recently, while planning one of these visits I learned that one of the winning Virginia elementary schools of our Get Active, Get Fit School Challenge was having a Radio Disney Dance Party as celebration for being chosen a winner. I made it a point to attend the dance party celebration in hopes of seeing what all the excitement was about.

Get Active, Get Fit is a joint initiative between Anthem and Radio Disney AM 1290. The school challenge program is designed to help motivate kids and families to achieve fitness together by engaging in fun activities over a 45-day period. Times are logged, submitted by the participating schools and the 25 Virginia elementary schools with the highest percentage of program participation win a live dance party at their school hosted by Radio Disney AM 1290.

In 2012, the event’s third year in Virginia, more than 157,000 students at 332 elementary schools participated.

It’s no secret that childhood obesity is a growing problem in this country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese, and since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has nearly tripled.  Obesity can have a harmful effect on a child’s body and number of different ways, both now and in the future.  Children who are obese have a greater risk for developing chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and breathing problems like sleep apnea, as well as joint and musculoskeletal issues.

What I witnessed at the dance party was truly inspirational. Seeing a gymnasium full of elementary school students dancing and jumping around to the latest pop hits being led by the team from Radio Disney was uplifting and powerful. Even the school’s administrators and teachers joined in on the fun. The energy displayed by the children that day at the dance party reminded me that children want to be active – it’s who they are. In fact, it’s who we all are.

Human beings weren’t designed to be couch potatoes. As baby boomers age and the prevalence of chronic diseases continues to increase, it will become exceedingly important that we stress the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.  Starting these habits at an early age can only be beneficial in the long run.

We can collectively achieve a healthier society if we teach children and their families that living an active lifestyle is one of the best things they can do for their health. It’s also a great way for family to spend time together doing fun activities. Far too many kids spend their days on the couch playing video games or watching TV and we need to reverse that trend.

Incorporating wellness into the workplace, and every aspect of our lives, should continue to be emphasized. While it certainly makes sense to implement programs and services designed to keep employees healthy, why not take a long hard look at our future workforce? By providing opportunities to get kids active through programs and events like Get Active, Get Fit, we can help foster a culture that includes daily activity—and we might just even pick up some good habits ourselves.

Jay Schukman, M.D. is the chief medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

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Scott Golden
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