PHIT America is utilizing grassroots campaigns to challenge the world’s newest pandemic – inactivity.
For most Americans, the word pandemic doesn’t immediately elicit a connection to physical activity. Yet according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only seven percent of kids worldwide meet the recommended activity threshold every week. In the United States, this problem is magnified. In 2016, a British Journal of Medicine study demonstrated that America’s youth ranked 47th out of 50 countries who had their activity level measured.
What’s the solution to this growing health crisis? Jim Baugh, founder of PHIT America believes that America’s inactivity dilemma can be defeated through a revival of local physical education programs – an initiative his foundation has pursued since 2013.
“America doesn’t truly recognize how bad this inactivity pandemic is,” Baugh said. “We have more and more Americans – especially our kids who are sedentary. Unfortunately, too many kids today simply rely on their mobile devices to have fun and this creates a major problem.”
Baugh traces the roots of inactivity to two important factors: Kids today no longer are able to develop the skills to become lifelong athletes, and this absence of requisite skills results in a lack of confidence needed to pursue activity. According to Baugh, these skills are typically instilled through families or physical education classes. Yet, in areas experiencing economic hardship, a factor strongly linked to childhood obesity, Baugh stated that many parents don’t have the time nor the knowledge to teach their children. Moreover, physical education has been widely cut across public schools. Today the average budget for PE amounts to just $764 per school nationwide.
“It’s one thing to have skills to throw, catch, run, and jump,” Baugh said. “The other is to have the confidence after they learn it… Once we are able to teach kids skills and confidence, that’s where they get into the leagues and things that others are doing such a great job with, but we need to start with the foundation.”
With foundational skills and confidence in mind, PHIT America has created 20 unique fitness programs that can be integrated into public schools at no cost through “Go! Grants.” Funding for these grants are supplied by donors to PHIT America and the programs are selected and customized by local champions in public school districts.
PHIT America’s most popular option is the AMPED program - designed to get kids and adults running and walking before the school day to stimulate the brain for hours of learning. Students who participate receive prizes and Baugh cited its advantage because it doesn’t take up any school time.
So far through AMPED and other Go! Grants programs, Baugh and his team have made a marked difference in schools across the nation. The foundation has reached 600 schools and 300,000 students, helping them develop the skills and confidence to be physically active for the rest of their lives.
“The beauty of [AMPED] is that you just need one volunteer,” Baugh said. “It could be a teacher, parent, or principal. It’s just $3,500 for a two-year investment in the program. That’s two cents per child per day.”
“I’ve seen these programs in action and they’re magical. What’s happening is that every school has jumpstarted more physical activity. If these kids are not getting moving normally, these programs will impact them in a big way.”
To instill PHIT America’s programs and grow fitness habits Baugh pointed to the importance of local champions – a role played by Ohio PE teacher Betty Kern. Kern, a PE teacher at Schrop Intermediate School and the 2017-18 Ohio PE Teacher of the Year has been working to instill better exercise habits in Ohio schools since 2001.
Since her start as a physical education teacher, Kern has witnessed the number of teachers and time allocated to gym class diminish significantly.
“At the time I first started we probably had seven physical education teachers at the high school,” Kern said. “Now we only have six teachers in the whole district.”
“Even though we have a mandate in our state that kids are supposed to get 150 minutes of physical education per week, they only get 45 minutes. If kids want to take more PE classes, we don’t have enough teachers and classes to provide the opportunity.”
In an attempt to alleviate the loss of resources allocated to youth activity in Ohio public schools, Kern has taken it upon herself to create before and after school programs for kids to participate. She sponsors programs that include a running club, walking club, high-intensity workout club, and jump rope club for students at Schrop Intermediate.
Over the years, Kern’s clubs have grown in size and now a staggering 40 percent of Schrop’s 500 students participate in the before and after-school programs.
“It’s hard to make a big difference in activity levels when you only see kids once a week, so I started these clubs,” Kern said. “It’s been phenomenal to see, the changes we’ve seen in the kids… They say Mrs. Kern, guess what I did at home? The kids start to become active outside of school and engage their families.”
Although she started the clubs prior to the advent of PHIT America, Kern recently connected with Baugh and his team. Now Schrop’s program receives additional resources from Baugh’s foundation helping to provide rewards and resources for students who participate.
According to Kern, prizes such as t-shirts and charms are now proudly displayed by students signifying a significant culture change in attitudes towards physical activity. In a district stricken by a nearly 70% poverty rate, Kern indicated the help from PHIT America as integral to success.
As a result of her programs with the help of PHIT America, Kern has observed impressive changes schoolwide. These include decreased absence and stronger academic performance.
“We have a truancy officer who has said over and over that these programs help get kids to school because they don’t want to miss a club day and a chance to connect with their friends,” Kern said. “Over the last two years, we’ve also received the Momentum award in our district which shows that we’re closing the achievement gap. It’s evident that these programs are helping with academics as well and my principal recognizes that and has given plenty of support.”
Kern’s programs have even produced individual success stories for students including weight loss and increased confidence.
“One of my little girls said ‘I never thought I was athletic and this year you showed me I could do so many things I didn’t think I could,’” Kern said. “It’s so empowering for them to learn all of these new skills.”
For PHIT America to continue providing GO! Grants to local schools across the United States, donations and sponsors are needed. Today companies such as Adidas, Wilson and Nike sponsor the organization, and individuals can donate to the cause through PHIT America’s website.
To Baugh, the decision to help America’s youth become more active is a no-brainer.
“We want to create healthier and smarter kids,” Baugh said. “That’s what it comes down to. There’s nothing like physical activity and education to do that. It will last a lifetime for these children.”
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