It’s all about fitness.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced July 19 the launch of a national $190 million media campaign designed to promote a healthier lifestyle for kids. The campaign, called “Verb: It’s What You Do,” encourages physical activity for its target audience of 9- to 13-year-olds. The program will be run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will use television, radio and the Internet in the multicultural outreach.

Ads began airing in June and officials plan to spend about $65 million of the budget on TV ads in the next year, according to an HHS report.

The media campaign comes at a time that the federal government is arguably the most interested it ever has been in promoting fitness and better nutrition.

In 1999, HHS estimated that 13% of all children and teenagers were overweight, and that children in the 9- to 13-year-old age group spend an average of 4½ hours each day in front of a TV, video game or computer screen.

Produce industry leaders want to make sure the campaign doesn’t soft-pedal the importance of good nutrition.

“United has supported Congressional funding of the CDC Youth Media Campaign, along with increased support for the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity and the National 5 a Day Partnership,” said Tom Stenzel, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association. “We’re glad to see HHS stepping up to promote this program, but dietary advice to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables to five to nine servings a day is going to have to be an equal part of the solution to the nation’s obesity crisis. We also urge Secretary Thompson to build permanent support for these programs into the president’s budget, rather than wait to see each year whether Congress will add funding to meet these essential needs.”

In other nutrition news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on July 22 announced grants totaling $4.1 million to 21 state agencies for Team Nutrition training programs. The USDA describes Team Nutrition as a behavior-based, comprehensive plan for promoting the nutritional health of the nation’s children that involves schools, parents and the community in its strategies.

“Promoting healthy eating is a priority for the Department of Agriculture and a key component of the president’s Healthier U.S. Initiative and the 5 a Day for Better Health Program,” said Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

The USDA said the 21 states receiving the grants will use the funds to deliver behavior-focused nutrition education strategies for children and their caregivers through the state agencies that administer the National School Lunch Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Programs.

In June, the USDA signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Education and Health and Human Services to coordinate, strengthen and promote the education and health of the U.S. school-aged children. A USDA release said both Veneman and Thompson have made the cause of balanced diets and physical activity top priorities in their respective departments.
Team Nutrition training grants will help fund state and local projects from September 2002 through September 2004 and were awarded on a competitive grants process. Each state received about $200,000.