It's no coincidence that obesity rates in the U.S. have been climbing while schools have been eliminating P. E. classes and adults have cut back on physical activity. To help reverse this trend, a delegation of advocates for physical activity traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to share their concern with the U.S. Congress. To make a point, one Heisman Trophy winner, an NFL star quarterback, a tennis legend, and other sports personalities joined the lobbying delegation. The setting for this undertaking was National Health-through-Fitness Day, which was organized by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) in conjunction with National PE4lifeÂ® Day.
Today, the group conducted more than 110 meetings with U.S. Senators, Representatives and their respective staffs in their offices on Capitol Hill. Every year since 2000, SGMA has organized a lobby day on Capitol Hill to help drive physical activity legislation.
On National Health-through-Fitness Day, a delegation of well known athletes, sporting goods manufacturers, physical education teachers, health care professionals, association leaders, and concerned citizens visited Capitol Hill to lobby Congress for federal legislation that would make physical activity more accessible and more affordable for all Americans. Some of the more prominent people in this delegation included former Wimbledon and U.S. Open tennis champion Stan Smith; Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown (Notre Dame); current NFL quarterback Chad Pennington; former major league infielder Ted Sizemore; current NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma; current WBA Lightweight World Champion Juan Diaz; and ex-Boston Celtics guard Jo Jo White. Some of the sporting goods brands which participated in the lobbying process included Accusplit, Cramer Products, Easton-Bell, Heelys, Horizon Fitness, Rawlings Sporting Goods, Russell Athletic, and Spalding.
The advocates walked the halls of Congress campaigning for two physical activity initiatives â€“ (1) the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) and (2) the PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) Bill.
The PEP Bill provides grants to local school districts to purchase equipment and train teachers in innovative physical education methods. The PEP program has successfully enhanced K-12 physical education programs across the country through grants used for training in state-of-the-art health and wellness-based physical education methods which include the addition of new technology such as heart-rate monitors, pedometers, and the acquisition of state-of-the-art PE equipment and facilities.
The PHIT Bill would change current federal tax law to allow for the use of pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to sports, fitness and other physical activities. Americans could invest up to $1,000 annually to pay for physical activities by investing money in existing pre-tax Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Health Savings Accounts (HSA), Medical Savings Accounts (MSA), and/or medical reimbursement arrangements. PHIT would only expand the eligible expenses. It would not increase contribution limits to these accounts.
Today, the consortium asked Congress to approve level funding for PEP in Fiscal Year 2008 -- $73 million. The PHIT Bill, which was introduced this January by U.S. Representative Jerry Weller (R-IL), is in its infancy and needs additional sponsors in both the House and the Senate.
In Fiscal Year 2001, the PEP Bill was approved for $5 million. In FY 2002, Congress allotted $50 million; $60 million in FY 2003; $70 million in FY 2004; $73.4 million in FY 2005; $72.7 million in FY 2006; and $73 million in FY 2007.
â€œObesity levels in the U.S. are growing at an alarming rate,â€ said Tom Cove, president of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. â€œThis meaningful legislation will help provide America's adults and children with the opportunity to learn about the importance of physical fitness in their daily lives. Our children need and deserve more physical education in our schools. Adults must incorporate regular exercise into their lifestyle.â€
â€œWith the PHIT Bill and the PEP Bill, SGMA has a chance to work with the U.S. Congress to send a serious message about the importance of regular physical exercise. This legislation could possibly revolutionize the nation's attitude about physical fitness,â€ said Bill Sells, SGMA's director of government relations. â€œToo many people are overweight due to inactivity and that trend needs to be halted. If not, our nation's health care costs could reach $4 trillion by 2015.â€
â€œThere was more attention in Congress this year to the problem of inactivity and that we have to do something about it,â€ said Ron Sutton of Accusplit (Pleasanton, California).
â€œLobbying on Capitol Hill was a great learning experience. It was valuable spending time with colleagues who were committed to making a difference for a worthy cause,â€ said John Bisignano of Disney Sports Attractions (Lake Buena Vista, Florida).
â€œIt's amazing that as one teacher, I can come to Washington, D.C. and make a difference for a great cause like physical activity,â€ said Mary Jo Stacks, a 34-year physical education and health teacher (East Lansing, Michigan).
SGMA, the trade association of leading industry sports and fitness brands, enhances industry vitality and fosters sports and fitness participation through research, thought leadership, product promotion and public policy. SGMA produces signature industry events including the Spring Market trade show, Sports+Technology Convergence, Industry Leaders Summit and National Health-through-Fitness Day on Capitol Hill. More information about SGMA membership and SGMA's Sports Research Partnership can be found at www.sgma.com.