Lack of physical activity in America's youth is emerging as a critical factor in the increase of lifestyle-related disease among school-age children. A national Children and Youth Fitness Study indicates that at least half of America's youth do not engage in the types of physical activities that promote long-term health. Simply put, children and young adults are becoming less physically fit and are having more health problems.
The Surgeon General's 1996 Report on Physical Activity and Health synthesized what has been learned about physical activity and health from decades of research - the benefits of regular physical activity can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety and promotes psychological well being, among other benefits. Research also supports the view that physically and mentally healthy children do better academically and have fewer disciplinary problems in school.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranked physical inactivity second only to tobacco use as the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in our society. Type II Diabetes, until recently found only in older adults, has become an epidemic among school-age children. While incidence of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other childhood conditions increase, the amount of times assigned for students to spend in physical education had decreased.
During the 2000 Florida Legislative Session, The American Heart Association Youth Fitness and Tobacco Prevention/Education Program was approved by both the Senate and House of Representatives as part of the Florida Tobacco Pilot Program's 2000-2001 initiatives. The approval of funding for this project once again represents a landmark decision on the part of the Florida Legislature for supporting physical fitness programs in Florida's public schools. This legislation's most ardent sponsor, The American Heart Association (AHA), Florida/Puerto Rico Affiliate, provides services and sponsors research concerning the reduction of disability and death from cardiovascular disease and stroke. More recently, AHA's "Heart Power" program was developed and made available to schools to teach children about the importance of nutrition, physical activity and living tobacco-free. AHA's continued support of the Youth Fitness and Tobacco Prevention/Education Program provides opportunities for Florida's schools to develop model physical fitness programs. The approval of funding for this program provides all Florida schools, including private schools, the opportunity to compete for these funds through a Request for Proposal (RFP).
The Florida Department of Health's Division of Health, Awareness and Tobacco was created as part of Florida's landmark settlement form the tobacco industry and is a youth-focused program. The twenty-month old program operates under five goals and consists of five components: Education and Training (includes school and community-based programs and houses this program; Tobacco Prevention Community Partnerships (one in each of the 67 counties and includes Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT); Enforcement (includes retailer, community, youth education); Media and Marketing (includes print and electronic advertisements such as "Truth" advertisements); and Evaluation. Each of the components work closely to assist in the achievement of the program's goals with evaluation and research key. In order for a proposal to be successful, it must demonstrate strong potential for enhancing physical fitness opportunities for students and discourage and decrease the use of tobacco by school-age children.
Schools or consortia not funded in 1999-2000 are invited to submit a proposal in the following categories:
1. Capacity Grant: Supports the development of entirely new programs within the school(s) for increasing opportunities for students to participate in physical fitness activities.
2. Demonstration Grant: Supports the refinement of an already existing exemplary program of physical fitness that promotes sound practice and replication in other schools and districts.
3. Innovation Grant: Supports the conceptualization, design, development and implementation of fitness programs that are entirely new and innovative, and demonstrate great promise for replication.
The number of schools chosen to participate is limited by the amount of available funds. For FY 1999-2000, 87 proposals were submitted to Florida State University's Center for the Study of Teaching and Learning (CSTL). Following an extensive review by a statewide selection committee, twenty-five of the 87 proposals were chosen and funded for a total of $598,000. Of these, 9 were Capacity Grants, four were Demonstration Grants, and 12 were Innovative Grants. With this new funding, the Center plans to add 20 to 30 new project sites.
The CSTL will provide assistance to all projects through development and distribution of the RFP; oversight of the statewide selection committee and process; coordination of a technical assistance workshop which brings together project managers and school staff to share innovative ideas and to learn how to fiscally manage their projects; fiscal management; assistance with the evaluation process; and daily technical assistance to school-based project coordinators.
The Fitness/Tobacco Connection
Of significant importance to the overall success of the AHA Youth Fitness and Tobacco Prevention/Education Program is the extent to which participation in the various physical fitness programs will influence students' choice as to whether or not to use tobacco. In a study that delineated the effects of smoking on high school students, Arday et.al. (1995) reported very interesting, yet serious findings. High school seniors who were regular smokers and began smoking by grade nine were determined to be:
· 2.4 times more likely than their nonsmoking peers to report poorer overall health;
· 2.4 to 2.7 times more likely to report cough with phlegm or blood, shortness of breath when not exercising, and wheezing and gasping; and
· 3.0 times more likely to have seen a doctor or other health professional for an emotional or psychological complaint.
Information provided by the CDC goes on to further clarify the relative influence of tobacco use on school-aged youth and the fitness/tobacco connection, from both a negative and positive perspective. First, the negative:
· Smoking hurts young people's physical fitness in terms of both performance and endurance among young people trained in competitive running.
· The resting heart rates of young adult smokers are two to three beats per minute faster than nonsmokers, which negatively impacts their physical fitness levels.
And, the positive! According to the CDC, the lower rates of smoking for student athletes, or those participating in physical activity, may be related to a number of factors:
· Greater self-confidence gained from sports participation;
· Additional counseling from coaches and teachers about the use of tobacco;
· Reduced peer influences related to tobacco use;
· Knowledge that smoking reduces sports performance; and
· Greater awareness about the health consequences of tobacco use.
There is substantial evidence in the literature to support the notion that participation in sports and physical activity may actually deter the use of tobacco. If students are given a broader range of opportunity to participate in organized fitness and sport programs, their opportunity for developing an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle will be significantly enhanced. As a result, an increase in physical activity coupled with a decrease or absence of tobacco use may become evident.
American Heart Association Youth Fitness and Tobacco Prevention/Education Program - Goals and Objectives