By now, most of us are well aware of the epidemic of childhood obesity in this nation, and we have seen many moves on the part of the food industry and the schools to address it. However, that’s only half of the equation for solving this problem; the other half is how do we inspire kids throughout our country to be more active.
The urgency of this effort cannot be understated. If we continue to live as inactively as we do now, the cost of treating diseases from conditions related to childhood obesity such as diabetes will potentially collapse our U.S. healthcare system. Already 20% of healthcare bills stem from preventable diseases like diabetes that afflict only 8% of the population. At current rates, more than 50% of Americans will be diabetic or pre-diabetic by 2020; this will cost U.S. healthcare $3.5 trillion in the next decade alone. Sustainable?
We know that kids who play sports are eight times more likely to be active throughout their lifetimes. We also know that youth who play sports develop healthier attitudes about what they choose to eat. Yet, at a time like this, fewer kids are playing sports in America than ever before, especially in communities where childhood obesity rates are the highest. This is because their sports programs have been cut and eliminated. Their schools have wiped out entire teams and leagues, especially those that serve girls and middle school students.
We can change this now. We should create a national jobs program that challenges adults to be coaches, especially in this nation’s most disadvantaged communities. Not just any coaches but trained coaches. Trained coaches are those who can address health, nutrition and other aspects of youth development so that children participating in their programs can get the skills they need to be successful and healthy adults.
There’s something else that’s equally special about creating a national job program for youth sports. It will create jobs for those that need them the most. Right now the highest unemployment bracket in this country is young adults ages 18 to 24 years old. For minorities, the unemployment rate for this age group almost doubles. Yet, it is this very same group who may hold the key to solving the biggest threat facing our youth this century. If given the opportunity to be coaches, this group can use their passion for sports to change the national health trajectory. They can also get job skills training that can lead to career paths in areas such as health education, youth and recreational services, teaching and nonprofit management.
Up2Us is already proving the cost effectiveness of this model through our Coach Across America program. Coach Across America has placed 280 coaches in 110 low-income communities this past year. Many of these coaches come from minority communities with high unemployment rates. Coach Across America gives them their first job and trains them with skills that lead to long-term employment. In turn, they use their familiarity with their communities to get more than 35,000 youth engaged in regular physical activity, many for the first time. This program is currently an AmeriCorps program and provides minimal stipends to these young adults. Yet, guess how many applied for these low-paying 280 positions? 4500.
The passion is out there and the need is out there. We need corporations to join with the government in growing this program and translating this model into a national jobs program.
We need a national job program for youth sports.
It’s a win-win situation.
It solves our nation’s childhood epidemic and it puts young adults to work.
-Paul Caccamo, Executive Director, Up2Us