By Judah Newby

Whatever happened to the good old days – those growing-up days where you could go outside and shoot baskets in the driveway, often joined by friends and neighbors, and play basketball for hours on end? Or the days when you could call up a bunch of friends together and play football at the schoolyard, or whiffle ball in the street? Two decades ago, that was part of growing up, but in today’s passive-inclined, technology-saturated environment, it has become increasingly harder to find young people who voluntarily get outside and exercise on a regular basis. It used to be a way of life; now it must be a conscious effort, and overall childhood health in America is suffering because of that fact.

According the Center of Disease Control, over one third of the population of American children are either overweight or obese, and in the past thirty years the percentage of obese children ages 6-11 has grown from 7 percent to 18 percent. The number is the same for youth in the 12-18 age group.

While youth sports are a great way to get involved in regular exercise, not all kids are willing participants. Issues of feeling self-conscious or fearing failure while playing sports amongst one’s own peers can effect anybody, both fit kids and obese kids alike. Two of America’s major sports leagues – National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), are all doing their part to help offer more helpful and healthy ways for children to be involved in their programs which promote fitness and healthy living that youth sports leagues just cannot replicate.

Founded on October 2007, the NFL “PLAY 60” initiative seeks to promote the habit among children in America to play for 60 minutes every day. As part of its mission to “tackle childhood obesity”, PLAY 60 offers in-school, after-school and team-based programs with its many national partners, as well as offering youth outreach and online programs. It also features a fun website for its participants to interact with the program, track its progress across the country, and see when the PLAY 60 Bus might make a stop to a school near them.

Similarly to PLAY 60, the NBA FIT program is the league’s “comprehensive health and wellness program that encourages physical activity and healthy living for children and families though programs, events, and products.” While lacking the specificity of the PLAY 60 initiative, NBA FIT has a vast array of networks connected throughout the country including YMCAs, Park and Rec leagues, and other community organizations across the globe. NBA FIT also prides itself on this global perspective, leading trips across the world to promote healthy living and activity through basketball, with key members such as Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra.

The NBA FIT initiative is also involved in a pair of other programs intended to promote healthy eating in 2014, one called “Living Healthy Week 2014” with famous chefs posting healthy recipes on the NBA Fit website, as well as partnering with Walmart and other supermarkets to sell healthy eating items such as oranges and fruits with the NBA Fit brand sticker on them.

While there are challenges with any program that seeks to combat the ill effects of a problem so widespread as childhood obesity, it is worth recognizing and applauding the effort of organizations such as the NFL and NBA, who enjoy immense exposure from an engrossed audience, and use their influence to promote healthy living among American and global youth.