Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis has joined forces with the Florida Departments of Agriculture and Education for a campaign to fight and defeat childhood obesity in cooperation with Dairy Farmers, Inc./Dairy Council of Florida and the NFL, multiple health organizations and several major corporations.
The campaign – Fuel Up to Play 60 – is funded with an initial private sector commitment of $250 million over five years by America's Dairy Farmers, including 140 Florida farm families. Funding is expected to grow as government, businesses, communities and families join this effort to improve nutrient-rich food choices and achieve 60 minutes of physical activity each day among children. More than 60,000 schools nationwide, including 2,200 in Florida, are enrolled in Fuel Up to Play 60.
"It's the parents that are involved and it's the role models like myself that have to step up to the plate because we are the ones that are allowing the kids to stay in the house and play video games," Mathis said.
In a joint news conference earlier this week in Tallahassee, Mathis, the Dairy Council of Florida, the NFL and the Florida Departments of Agriculture and Education announced a renewed commitment to work together to combat childhood obesity in Florida. At the news conference, Lt. Governor Jeff Kottcamp, Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson, Commissioner of Education Dr. Eric Smith and Mathis spoke about the importance of combating childhood obesity. Florida dairy farmer Bob Butler from Highlands County was the master of ceremonies.
"We not only wholeheartedly support our dairy farmers in this effort, we applaud them for the impressive financial commitment they are making to increasing fitness and reducing obesity in our schools," said Bronson. "Many organizations have highlighted this growing problem, but few have stepped up and committed their resources to the extent that our dairy farmers are demonstrating today."
Based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Fuel Up to Play 60 empowers students in grades 4 through 10 to engage their peers to "fuel up" with nutrient-rich foods they often lack – particularly low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products, fruits, vegetables and whole grains – and "get up and play" for 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Components, developed for and by youth, such as program curriculum, in-school promotional materials, a Web site (www.fueluptoplay60.com) and youth social media partnerships, are customizable and non-prescriptive. The program's design allows youths and schools determine which tools and resources best help them meet their wellness goals and school wellness policies. Partner-supported school grants will help schools make long-term healthy changes.
Fuel Up to Play 60 also gives leaders in health, government, businesses and communities nationwide the opportunity to be part of a movement that relies on participation, collaboration and action by youth and adults to help develop and maintain healthy habits to last a lifetime.
"This is our generation's moment in history to try and do something about this, to turn this around," said Kottcamp.
The program taps the power of all 32 NFL teams, players and physical activity programming to add recognition and value for students. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins are working closely with the Dairy Council of Florida to promote Fuel Up to Play 60 in their respective areas. The National Dairy Council's trusted school relationships are crucial in sustaining the program.
Through the Fuel Up to Play 60 program sponsored by Dairy Farmers, Inc./Dairy Council of Florida, Florida students will have the opportunity to engage in healthy eating and physical activity projects and activities that empower their schools to get healthy.
In the 2009-2010 school year, 15 schools in Pasco, Pinellas and Palm Beach counties were presented the opportunity to participate in a Fuel Up to Play 60 pilot. These outstanding schools, principals, staff and students working together received grants of $5,000 per school to promote healthy eating and physical activity to all students at their schools. Each Fuel Up to Play 60 pilot team consisting of approximately 20 students and their advisor were charged with developing projects that inspired their peers to make changes to help them be healthier and more active. Each team chose a nutrition and physical activity project to implement throughout the year. The grant funds were used to help make the team's vision a reality. Representatives from Bay Point Middle school in Pinellas County also attended the news conference and shared how the program has made a difference at their school.
"This has widened my understanding about what it takes to be healthy. It's not that hard. Just finding friends and playing whatever we feel like," said Sam Dolson, Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador at Bay Point Middle School.
The projects were planned, managed and executed in collaboration with other school wellness initiatives and included the principal and staff from areas including food services, health education and physical education. In addition, all students can track their healthy behavior changes online at fueluptoplay60.com through the state and national competitions.
"With one in three Florida children 10-17 years old considered overweight or obese, programs like Fuel Up to Play 60 are more important than ever," said Jennifer W. Sills, Registered Dietitian and Director of School Marketing for the Dairy Council of Florida. "Through ongoing research and innovative programming and resources, the Dairy Council of Florida has been committed to helping schools combat poor nutrition, inactivity and obesity among Florida's youth since 1958. Fuel Up to Play 60 will continue to expand in the coming years through bold leadership and new partnerships with organizations and industry leaders such as the Florida Departments of Agriculture and Education and the NFL, helping achieve changes no single organization could achieve alone."
The goal is to use what was learned this year in pilot and non-pilot schools to engage more partners and expand the program in 2010-2011, making it more successful and impactful.