Tuesday, June 15, 2004

'Verb' program works to get kids moving

Campaign hits the streets to promote health

By Matt Leingang
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PRICE HILL - A new phase of the federal government's campaign to inspire "tweens"- children 9-13 - to get more exercise rolled out of Cincinnati on Monday.

"Verb: It's What You Do" is the name of a slogan attached to the five-year, $190 million campaign, which began in 2001 with a series of television commercials on MTV, Nickelodeon and other channels popular with kids.

Now the campaign, which hopes to make a dent in the nation's childhood obesity epidemic, is hitting the streets. About 50 professional and amateur athletes from across the country gathered at Mount Echo Park to begin an 18-week, 100-city national tour to engage kids in basketball, skateboarding, soccer, dance and other physical activities.

Cincinnati was chosen as the staging ground because it is centrally located, said Bill Wood, spokesman with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is overseeing the campaign.

The percent of overweight children ages 6-11 more than doubled from the late 1970s to 2000 - from 6.5 percent to 15.3 percent - according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. During the same time, the percent of overweight adolescents ages 12-19 tripled, from 5 percent to 15.5 percent.

The Verb project was modeled after the successful "Truth" campaign, which is aimed at reducing tobacco use among kids 11-15.

But some consumer groups worry that the effort doesn't go far enough. By comparison, the fast-food industry spends more than $1.5 billion promoting its products, said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a nonprofit organization in Portland, Ore., founded by consumer activist Ralph Nader.

"This campaign would work better if it had Michael Jordan telling kids to eat veggies and don't eat McDonald's, but they don't do that because that would flip out the food industry lobbyists," Ruskin said.

That's too harsh, said Shelley Kirk, center director for Health Works, a weight management program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

"Just because the Verb campaign focuses on exercise doesn't mean other programs can't pick up the nutrition side," Kirk said. "If we put enough voices together, the message will get heard."

Wood said the Verb project is already showing some success in getting kids to play outdoors. A recent survey of 2,500 "tweens" found that 75 percent had heard of Verb, and the children who knew more about the program were more active.

"Promoting an active lifestyle is a message that I can get behind," said 30-year-old Luis Reyes, a 30-year-old professional snowboarder from New York City who is part of the summer Verb tour.

The tour will return to Cincinnati Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, making stops at Paramount's Kings Island and other locations around Greater Cincinnati.

Defining overweight, obese

• The CDC's desirable weight standard is based on a mathematical formula known as Body Mass Index, which measures a person's height and weight. BMI is age adjusted.

• Individuals with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, meaning they have an increased body weight relative to their height.

• People with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese, defined as an excessively high amount of body fat.


E-mail mleingang@enquirer.com

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