The head of the Department of Health and Human Services emphasized the need for Americans to engage in healthy lifestyles to combat rising levels of obesity Tuesday at the Elliott School of International Affairs.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was part of a panel that kicked off the “Million PALA Challenge,” a White House-sponsored initiative to jumpstart nationwide physical activity.
The panel included Gold Medal Olympic athletes and health advocates, including gymnast Dominique Dawes, NBA players Grant Hill and Chris Paul, former Major League Baseball player Curtis Pride and figure skater Michelle Kwan.
Members of the discussion expressed concern for recent studies revealing that one in three American children is obese.
“The human and financial costs of unhealthy lifestyles is too high,” said Shellie Pfohl, the executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. “Not only is our work desperately needed – it is required.”
PALA, which stands for the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, is an initiative in which citizens can sign up for and commit to doing an hour of activity a day for children, and a half-hour a day for adults.
The program integrates new technology to let participants keep track of their goals and log their progress online.
A plan to partner with The Y – formerly known at the YMCA – to integrate interactive gaming challenges at locations nationwide was announced at the event.
The challenge came in correlation with National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and first lady Michelle Obama’s recent creation of the “Let’s Move!” program, which strives to reduce the number of American children who are obese.
Pfohl said besides having technological temptations inside the house, some children grapple with other issues when trying to become active.
Pfohl said there are areas all over the country, known as “nutrition and recreation deserts,” that have no parks or safe places for children to go, only one grocery store and limited access to healthy foods.
“Do I feel safe? Is the air so polluted that I can’t walk around the block? Is my neighborhood so crime-ridden that I can’t walk around the block?” added Pfohl, of the questions that people in those communities may ask before heading out of the house.
Despite reasons to not be engaged in physical activity, the overwhelming conclusion of the discussion was that children and adults need to begin taking action in a healthy lifestyle before the issue becomes worse.
Sebelius said the cost of dealing with obesity in the future will be difficult, if not impossible, to pay off if the problem isn’t curbed now.
“If we do not address this challenge, health care costs are going to consume a larger and larger portion of the economy in coming years and we won’t be competitive as a nation,” Sebelius said.