Dear Mrs Obama

Dear Mrs. Obama,

Thank you for making the fight against youth obesity your primary concern as First Lady. As runners, parents, and community activists, we share your passion in this challenge.

We completely agree with the goals you have established: access to healthy, affordable food for all kids; increased physical activity in schools and in the community; healthier school meal programs; parents empowered with the information and tools to make good choices.

Since we have some experience in this area, we thought perhaps we could share some of our ideas and observations with you.

Make Physical Education and active recess mandatory from kindergarten to 12th grade: Include activities and lessons to emphasize how running or other aerobic exercise should become a lifetime habit. This is a low-cost initiative, needing no equipment and no new teachers: for example, Monterey County’s JUST RUN program is free, can be led by any teacher or parent, and has positively impacted more than 7,500 kids.

Health education should be an important part of school rather than an afterthought. Having “No child left inside” is just as important as “No child left behind.”

Make BMI measurements and fitness goals part of school programs: This might be a controversial step – but any executive will tell you that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Kids should know their fitness levels – and these assessments are a great way to open a dialogue with parents as well.

Simplify: Please avoid the typical bureaucratic solution of just throwing more money and researchers at the problem. We all know that poor nutrition + sedentary lifestyle = obesity. Most health agencies already have programs in place – the problem is that they have NOT been working. Find the few good programs out there (see Just Run above) to direct resources toward, and make them more accessible nationwide.

Use “Foot Soldiers”: Any battle needs lots of foot soldiers. In this case, use established community organizers and advocates, and recruit new ones as well. Newly proposed programs should have advocates in every school, workplace, and health organization. Encourage people to get involved at school or in the community.

Lose the anti-running bias: Maybe we’re paranoid, but we’ll put this one out there ... but we’re a bit offended that the Surgeon’s General’s “Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation 2010” says children should have 60 minutes a day of vigorous exercise but doesn’t mention running. Included in the activity examples are softball, racquetball, kayaking (Really? In inner cities?), skating, mall walking, and washing the car, but somehow running didn’t make the list.

The President’s Active Lifestyle award is based on kids being active 5 days a week for 6 weeks. 100 activities are mentioned and running is (thankfully) one of them, but so are archery, billiards, croquet, darts, gardening, horseshoe pitching, ski-mobiling, skeet shooting, and even shuffleboard.

See, here’s the thing: running is the simplest, cheapest, most accessible and most effective means of exercise there is. Although we risk offending the kayaking or shuffleboard lobbies by saying so, we feel our sport deserves a much higher profile in fitness programs.

Make it permanent: Kids need more than 6 total weeks of exercise; it has to be daily, it has to be a life-long habit, and it has to be fun and rewarding in order to be successful. If your legacy is a generation of healthy, happy kids, that’s something to be enormously proud of.

Good luck with your initiative, and feel free to contact us if you need some free consulting!


Swifter, Higher, Stronger ... Prettier?

Just for kicks, imagine the following: you’re charging through the final mile of a 10K, on pace to set a personal record or win an age group award, and giving it every ounce of effort you have.

The situation grows more difficult with every step - legs screaming, lungs burning, heart pounding like a jackhammer – but you somehow muster the courage and determination to stay on pace all the way to the finish. Finally you cross the line and almost keel over from sheer exhaustion, filled with satisfaction and pride from a maximal effort and a long-awaited goal.

Shortly thereafter, you’re approached by a race official, where the following exchange begins …

Official: Nice job – it looks like you might win an age group award. Of course, your official result is pending final review.

You: Review? What kind of review?

Official: By the judges, obviously. They deduct or add seconds to your time based on style. Like the way you were really grunting during that last mile – that might cost you about 15 seconds.

You: Seriously?

Official: Uh-huh. Also, your arm swing looked kind of funny throughout the race – that’s probably another 10-second penalty. And you had this strange grimace on your face towards the end – maybe another 5 or 10 seconds for that. Honestly, you weren’t as graceful as the other runners, and some of them really impressed the judges out there.

You: But this was my fastest time ever - I set a PR!

Official: Yeah … about that. By my calculations, your clock time was 39:35, and factoring in style points, your official time will probably be about 40:10 or so. Congrats on almost breaking 40 minutes! Unfortunately, two guys behind you earned time deductions, so they passed you in the age group standings. Something to work on for next time, maybe.

You: This is insane.

And you’d be justified in thinking so. Nevertheless, every four years we embrace and celebrate a whole collection of sports that rely on just such a premise to separate winners from losers. Tomorrow evening, the craziness begins all over again; that’s right … we’re talking about the Olympics.

Before you get the wrong idea, we’ll say very clearly that we both LOVE watching the Olympics. We love the ideals they embody: pursuit of the highest levels of human performance, uniting people from all corners of the globe, who set political and religious and cultural differences aside in the name of brotherhood through competition.

It’s just that last part – the “competition” thing – that rubs us the wrong way sometimes. In our book, sporting competition consists of either 1) defeating someone face to face, or 2) outperforming everybody on the same field at the same time. It doesn’t include who looks the prettiest, who puts the most flair into their routine, or who benefitted from better course conditions earlier in the day.

The Summer Olympics, particularly gymnastics, feature an element of this capriciousness, but the Winter Games are the stage when such absurdity truly shines. However, we realize that most of the events don’t lend themselves to side-by-side competition, and that won’t stop us from watching and appreciating the grand spectacle that every Olympiad offers.

But deep inside, part of us will be wishing for an eight-lane luge track, full-contact figure skating (have them all do their routines at the same time; last one standing wins), or a simultaneous downhill ski event – anything where we don’t need judges to tell us who the winners are.


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