July 22, 2008

YMCA Program in Schools Could Help Fight Obesity

By Alan Mauldin, The Moultrie Observer, Ga.

Jul. 22--MOULTRIE -- The YMCA's youth program at county elementary schools started out as a way to allow more students to participate but as a byproduct could help students avoid obesity and related health problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that obesity among children aged 6 to 11 more than doubled between 1980 and 2006, from 6.5 percent to 17 percent, and tripled for those ages 12 to 19, from 5 percent to 17.6 percent during the same time span.

The YMCA's program started last year with after-school soccer and flag football, and will be expanded to include basketball.

The Colquitt County School Board approved last week allowing the YMCA to use elementary school gymnasiums for basketball.

The basketball program would be similar to the soccer and football programs, with practice beginning immediately after school.

In soccer and flag football, which included students in fourth and fifth grades, participants practiced two times each week at school for about an hour and then played games on weekends at the YMCA facilities in Moultrie, said Greg Coop, YMCA executive director.

The elementary schools allowed the YMCA to expand participation beyond Moultrie, Coop said.

"It's tough for the kids who live in Doerun and Berlin and those outlying areas to come in and practice," he said. "We can make it more convenient for those parents."

About 100 elementary students on nine teams competed in soccer and about 140 participated in flag football among the schools, Coop said.

During the first year the elementary school programs were separate from the YMCA's other soccer and football leagues, and the YMCA board will be discussing whether to merge the programs, he said.

While the organization was looking to open up the program to more people, Coop said that it also promotes healthy activities.

"It certainly gives kids an opportunity to get out and play," he said. "We certainly want to see them getting active and running around."

According to the CDC, young people who are obese are more likely than other children to become overweight adults, who are at higher risk for adult health problems including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis. Healthy diets and exercise lower the risk of obesity and related diseases.

In 2007, 14 percent of Georgia high school students were obese, the CDC said, trailing only Mississippi at 18 percent, Tennessee at 17 percent, Hawaii, Kentucky and Texas at 16 percent, and Oklahoma and West Virginia at 15 percent.


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