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Concerned parents, organizations moving to get kids moving

| Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, 12:00 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Hayden Reisinger, 7, of Mars, throws a football at a basketball hoop as his buddy Jack Mueller (behind left), 6, of Mars, watches with a smile at the opening of Sports and Courts in Wexford on Saturday. The indoor sports complex will be the home to a variety of sports programs, and will also be available for birthday parties and practices, pick-up games, and other sports related events.

With his oldest and youngest sons about 15 years apart in age, Glenn Foglio saw how much technology changed in recent years — and how easily it could change children's priorities when it comes to staying active.

“I remember (my two older sons) having (a PlayStation) maybe when they were 16,” said Foglio, 53, of Pine. “(Youngest son) Alex had PlayStation when he was 4. And he has an iPad, and he has an iPod. That's the big change — the technology — and I think that's the part that has people sitting in too much.”

Youth fitness — or lack thereof — is a growing problem worldwide. A study led by a University of South Australia researcher recently found that children aren't running as fast or as far as they once did, for example.

Foglio said although it may be convenient at times to let Alex sit and play a computer game, “I catch myself saying, ‘No, put that down — let's gather some kids up (and play).' ”

Grant Tomkinson, an Australian researcher, looked at 50 studies on running fitness done from 1964 through 2010 and involving 25 million children ages 9 to 17 from 28 countries.

His analysis found it takes an average of 90 seconds longer for a child to run a mile compared to 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness declined 5 percent per decade since 1975 for children ages 9 to 17.

The studies measured how far children could run in five to 15 minutes and how quickly they ran a certain distance, ranging from half a mile to two miles. Today's children are about 15 percent less fit than their parents were, researchers concluded.

“I think if you go throughout history, (in) every generation health improves,” said Dr. Vivek Allada, interim chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology and co-director of the Heart Institute at Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville. “This is one of the first signs of health taking a curve in the wrong direction, and that's disappointing.”

One culprit is childhood obesity, in epidemic proportions, Allada said. Obesity rates more than doubled for children 6 to 11 and more than tripled for teenagers during the past 30 years, he said. As of 2011, one third of all children were either overweight or obese.

“It's just unbelievable,” he said.

Less physical activity — due, in part, to increased time watching TV, using computers and playing video games — likely contributed to the study results in the United States, Allada said.

Many organizations are making efforts to get kids active. First lady Michelle Obama kicked off the Let's Move! program in 2010 to promote healthier food in schools, better food labeling and increased physical activity. The NFL Play 60 campaign, started in 2007, attempts to get children to be active for 60 minutes a day.

The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance began an initiative based on the Let's Move! program. Let's Move in School aims to ensure that schools provide a comprehensive physical activity program.

Linda Woods Huber, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, said more than 350 school districts in Pennsylvania signed up for the program during the 2012-13 school year — tops in the nation.

“If we can train children at a younger age, and I mean elementary physical education and health education, they will then learn what it is to be physically active and learn the skills that they will use at recess, at the end of the day, on weekends and in the summers,” Huber said.

Some schools are reducing or eliminating recess, which Huber said is a “really big mistake.”

Outside of schools, there are fewer opportunities for children to be active — especially at a noncompetitive level.

“I used to get together with my six neighbor friends, and every day, we would play football or wiffle ball,” said Dave Gray, 43, of Pine, owner of Coach Dave Gray Youth Sports. “You don't see that anymore, for several different reasons. But they're still kids, and they need that opportunity to still actively participate in sports and fitness.”

Foglio and his wife, Carol, purchased a warehouse in Pine this year and are converting it to a recreational facility, with Coach Dave Gray Youth Sports as the primary tenant. The first phase of Sports and Courts, featuring an indoor basketball/volleyball court, opened last month. Two more phases are scheduled for next year.

“We didn't open this up to be millionaires,” Gray said. “We truly want to help the youth start to move.”

Ultimately, the onus for helping children stay active falls on families. Allada said parents should set a good example by refraining from smoking and living a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Rebecca Lucore, 40, of Pine said she and her husband, Chris Cutone, make sure their three young boys stay active. The family goes on frequent hiking and camping trips.

“I think we have to set an example,” Lucore said. “My husband and I both run and go to the gym six days a week. A lot of times, we bring them with us.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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