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Club helps put America’s health back on track

By: Randy Tooker Chief Professional Officer for the Boys & Girls Club of Auburn
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As our nation’s young athletes compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, I am full of admiration for each of them. I can only imagine the tremendous challenges, pain and setbacks they have endured to get where they are today. Each is testament to what enormous courage and strength can do. It’s truly inspiring. But each day, I see many reasons to be concerned about how our country can continue to compete on a world stage. Kids across America are in crisis: a national high school dropout rate of nearly 30 percent; a scarce supply of mentors to guide them; a rise in gang violence and drug abuse. As a chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Club of Auburn, I find it particularly alarming to see how unhealthy our community’s children are — leading sedentary lifestyles, eating junk food, playing video games and watching mindless TV. In fact, a survey released just last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that less than one-third of high school youth meet the recommended levels of physical activity. While 90 percent of 9-year-olds get a couple of hours of exercise most days, fewer than three percent of 15-year-olds do. Our obesity rate for 6- to 11-year-olds has tripled since the 1970s. These kids are now at risk of being overweight in adulthood, with a higher likelihood of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, arthritis and cancer. It’s tough to compete when you have to contend with these conditions. Being healthy — eating well, getting regular exercise and making good lifestyle choices — is the foundation for success, now and later in life. Studies prove that a healthy lifestyle makes the mind more alert and increases confidence and self-esteem — all essential for successful leaders. So how can we get our kids off the couch and on the right track? There are youth development organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Auburn, which are here to help. We engage young people to nurture their own well-being, set personal goals and live successfully as self-sufficient adults. We raise kids’ awareness about the importance of healthy eating and physical fitness. At the Boys & Girls Club, interactive, small-group activities increase peer support, enhance life skills, build resiliency and strengthen leadership ability. And it works. In a national Harris survey, 80 percent of Boys & Girls Club alumni report that the club had a positive impact on their health and fitness. Empowering youth to become healthy is a generation-changing and life-enhancing goal. But it is possible if, as adults, we lead by example, encourage our children to become more active and support local youth organizations. If every one of us commits to helping our young people achieve good health, we can ensure a stronger nation — and a competitive global presence — for generations to come. Randy Tooker is the Chief Professional Officer for the Boys & Girls Club of Auburn.