In Wisconsin, 30.7 percent of children are considered either overweight or obese (16.6 percent overweight, 14.1 percent obese), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the percentage is not as high as in some states, it has grown steadily over the past decades and has raised concern with local health officials.
The Packers are trying to combat what many are calling an epidemic by reaching out to schools to offer Packers Youth Football Outreach Camps, which are complimentary, grassroots programs designed for Wisconsin’s second- through fifth-graders. Coordinated in conjunction with the NFL Play 60 program, Youth Football Outreach Camps feature health education and recreational opportunities in a fun and safe environment.
They were created to tackle childhood obesity by getting kids active during and after school, and they did just that during a visit to Danz Elementary on Thursday, Sept. 20.
It’s been said that one of the reasons to blame for the recent rise in childhood obesity is the decline in kids’ excitement to be outdoors. Whether or not that’s true, it certainly wasn’t on display at Danz Elementary. Nearly 300 kids in grades two through five flooded Danz Park in Green Bay, filled with enthusiasm to be out of their desks and on the field.
The camp at Danz featured two 45-minute sessions with 150 children in each, and took the kids through five stations that focused on specific football skills such as throwing or kicking. Angel Ortega, a student at Danz Elementary, said that his favorite station was the throwing station, where children had to run through a route marked by small cones and throw the football to a station volunteer.
“I don’t play football a lot but I really like it,” Ortega said. “If you don’t like football you should play another sport because it’s important for everyone to exercise so they can get healthy and get a lot of energy.”
Another student and avid gymnast, Litcy Guvara, said her teacher has been talking about living a healthy lifestyle in class.
“Our teachers tell us to go outside and play and they tell us what is good and not good to eat,” Guvara said. “I like doing this today because we get to run around and be healthy. If you keep exercising, it’s good for your heart. I exercise a lot in gymnastics and I never feel tired, I feel really good.”
Addressing childhood obesity within the classroom is an initiative supported by the NFL’s Play 60 program, which provides teaching materials and programs for schools to take advantage of. Last year in Wisconsin, 13 schools participated in Play 60. More than 20 schools are taking part this year.
Katherine Schiller, a fourth-grade teacher at Danz, says she is concerned about the state’s childhood obesity rates and looks for ways to integrate healthy lessons into her regular classroom lessons.
“I think obesity is an issue that needs to be addressed and this is a great way to help that,” Schiiler said. “With this, we can show kids how much they can have by being outside, running around, catching and throwing the ball and weaving between things. I think this is going to be a huge help.”
Youth football camps are facilitated by Packers community outreach coordinator Tim Schroeder and other staff members of the community outreach department. No players attend the camps due to practice schedules in the fall.
“We have these camps every Tuesday and Thursday in the fall at various schools throughout the state,” Schroeder said. “Our main goal is to make sure that kids are getting the necessary amount of exercise that they need to be healthy and we try to do that in a fun and engaging way. They’ll get 45 minutes here, and we hope they will go home and play after school to get to the suggested 60 minutes.”
Schiller said the program has made it easy to get kids enthusiastic about exercising.
“There’s been a ton of excitement for today,” Schiller said. “We’ve been talking about it for the last two weeks since we found out this was happening. The kids were so excited to find out who was going to be here, what the stations would be and everything else involved. It’s an exciting celebration for us to have at our school.”