Kicking off its season, the National Football League announced Wednesday that it is tackling the nation's childhood obesity crisis.
The NFL presented a four-year, $2 million grant to Action for Healthy Kids, a nationwide partnership focused on boosting access to nutritious foods and promoting physical activity in schools.
"We're excited that we can help Action for Healthy Kids improve nutrition and exercise in our schools through programs that are innovative and fun," said Cedric Jones, NFL vice president for youth football development.
Action for Healthy Kids includes 35 national organizations, state and federal agencies that form teams of educators, administrators and health professionals in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It is chaired by former Surgeon General David Satcher,
In Texas, the group is developing a certification program for physical education teachers. In Indiana, a team is recruiting schools to participate in fresh fruit and vegetable programs.
Surgeon General Richard Carmona said the need for healthier schools is dire. Two out of three Americans suffer symptoms related to being overweight and obese and 15 percent of teenagers are overweight, he said.
"We know that healthy kids are smarter kids," Carmona said. "The research shows that they are also better students."
Parents can help by setting a better example for their kids, he said, and by encouraging them to play games outdoors instead of watching hours of TV or sitting in front of the computer.
But at a time when the nation's weight problem is pushing epidemic proportions, Carmona said sensitivity is key. Parents and teachers must send messages about healthy diet and exercise without stigmatizing kids who may already suffer from poor body image and self-esteem.
"Everybody's not going to be on the football team or the baseball team, but there's no reason that children can't take a walk every day," he said. "Just take a brisk walk in the yard."