Opinion by Roger Goodell, Commisioner, NFL; and Ann Marie Krautheim, M.A., R.D., L.D., CEO of GENYOUth. Originally posted by USA Today.
As the 2023-24 school year begins, it is important to recognize that the impact of the pandemic continues to play out throughout our society, particularly among our youth. Scores in math and reading have declined while rates of physical and mental health challenges have risen appreciably.
As we know from previous studies, physical inactivity and sedentary habits are among the major risk factors for decreased mental well-being.
Since its formation in 2010, GENYOUth has aggressively responded to health and wellness issues facing our youth. More than 30 partners, including the National Football League, have embraced GENYOUth’s mission to help school children thrive by living a well-nourished and physically active life.
Never has this been more important.
Kids became less physically active during the pandemic
The decline in physical activity persists: The Physical Activity Alliance’s 2022 U.S. Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth showed another year of below average grades, and fewer than 1 in 4 school-age youth meets recommended physical activity guidelines. The crisis is even greater among girls, minority youth and students living in low-income households.
National research indicates there is a continued decrease in physical activity levels among children. Organized sports have significant physical and mental health benefits, build social skills and teamwork, and provide a sense of structure outside of school. Yet, participation rates – because of COVID-19 and other factors − are down.
The solution begins in schools: The National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health recently released by the White House urges action to ensure that all children have equitable access to physical activity and play. Schools are crucial partners in supporting the health and well-being of youth, as they provide equitable access to healthy meals and safe places to learn and play.
In this regard, NFL PLAY 60 has worked with partners, including GENYOUth, for more than 16 years to help youth reach 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Through programs in more than 73,000 schools nationwide, more than 38 million children have had an opportunity to boost physical activity.
How to help children become physically fit
There are several ways to help make schools a center of physical activity for youth:
➤Enhance school-based physical activity. States and school districts need to increase the opportunities for physical activity, including daily recess, classroom activity breaks and increased frequency of physical education. Less than 4% of elementary and middle schools require physical education daily. Students who participate in physical education are two to three times more likely to be physically active outside of school and twice as likely to be active in adulthood.
➤Offer innovative programs. One of the fastest-growing team sports among youth is flag football, thanks in part to programs like NFL FLAG-In-School, provided by GENYOUth through a grant from the NFL Foundation with additional support from Nike and other organizations. This program is now in more than 30,000 schools. NFL FLAG-In-School may serve as a model for how schools and communities can make physical activity exciting and fun for kids of all ages and backgrounds, building sportsmanship, teamwork, camaraderie and connectedness.
➤Collaborate and partner. When organizations work together − private entities along with local governments and nonprofits − the impact is boundless. This can take many forms, including partnerships that help provide safe open spaces and fields for youth.
This is not about one organization or one league, but all of society collectively caring for the future well-being of America’s youth and helping to ensure that every child in every school is nourished, active and supported.
As Anya Kamenetz, author of “The Stolen Year,” wisely said, “It’s time to invest in the mental, social and emotional well-being of youth.”
Play time should be a NOW time. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Roger Goodell is commissioner of the NFL and a founding member of GENYOUth’s Board of Directors. Ann Marie Krautheim is chief executive officer of GENYOUth, a nonprofit founded by America’s dairy farmers and the NFL, dedicated to creating healthier school communities.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: As America goes back to school, help reverse the decline of our children’s physical health. Photo: © Josh Morgan-USA TODAY