Tennis and Health: USTA Partners to Help Combat Childhood Obesity
Standing before a panel of notables and the press at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, USTA Chief Executive for Community Tennis Kurt Kamperman’s opening remarks regarding the obesity epidemic engulfing the country and particularly America’s youth could not have been more timely. Statistics show that in the last 30 years, childhood obesity has tripled, resulting in 1 in 3 children being overweight or obese.
The USTA’s Youth Tennis initiative is the single largest initiative in the history of the organization, Kamperman said, adding that the USTA is determined to combat obesity and inactivity in kids in a big way. The USTA initiative also fits in with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!,” a program that promotes regular physical activity and healthy eating for kids.
The press event, held on Sept. 1 during the US Open, helped to kick off National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. As part of the activities, from Sept. 1 through Oct. 6, families could log onto YouthTennis.com, which listed more than a thousand events around the country where kids and their parents could experience tennis.
A superstar panel of experts from the fitness, sports and entertainment worlds spoke about the importance of the collaboration of the USTA with the Partnership of a Healthier America and the “Let’s Move!” program. Olympic swimming medalists Dara Torres and Cullen Jones, fitness expert Bob Harper and actress Christine Taylor were among the dignitaries to lend their voices to this initiative. Following the presentation, the panelists joined in a mini tennis clinic with local kids who were participants in the USTA’s Youth Tennis program.
Larry Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, expressed the need to reintegrate physical activity into the everyday lives of children and families, while inspiring and enabling kids to choose active play and sports. He also cited the USTA’s commitment of building thousands of kid-sized courts across the country and funding an additional $150,000 for new tennis equipment to support schools and programs that are providing 10 and Under Tennis programs for kids
White House Assistant Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass highlighted the fact that the U.S. is spending 20% of total healthcare costs just on obesity, adding that the current group of young people is the most sedentary generation of kids. “We just have to inspire kids to move more,” he said. “It’s a way of life that we have to teach our children — it’s not a choice.”
The U.S. has an “inactivity epidemic,” said Mike Bergeron, the chairman of the National Youth Sports Health and Safety Institute. He noted that kids who are fit perform better in school and on standardized tests. He also stressed that sports have to be accessible and more inclusive, citing the importance of 10 and Under Tennis.
Gold medalist swimmer Cullen Jones, who helped launch “Make a Splash,” a program that educates families, children and communities about the importance of learning to swim, added, “You have to find ways to keep kids active and healthy in a social setting. The biggest thing is to be active and most importantly to have a good time doing it.” Bob Harper added that parents need to get involved with their children and become more active — they must be the role models; to be part of the solution, they must do what they want their kids to do.
Dara Torres noted that it needs to be fun for kids so they’ll stick with it. “That’s why this USTA program is good for kids, because they can experience success right away,” Torres said.
Actress Christine Taylor smiled and said, “My kids were born into a funny family and none of this came naturally to us or my husband’s (Ben Stiller) family. To make it fun is what it’s all about in my household. To be a part of the USTA 10 and Under initiative was just a gift because of my love for the game.”
Kamperman urged everyone to get involved in addressing the inactive lifestyle and “repairing youth sports. The rule changes that we’ve put in place allow more kids into the game, they can have fun right away, and part of fun is having success right away. Tennis will raise the bar with other sports.”
At the Youth Tennis clinic afterward, the kids themselves picked up on the same themes the grownups mentioned. “I get to play with my friends,” said 8-year-old Asantewa when asked what she liked about tennis. “And I like that you have to warm up before you play, and when I don’t play with my friends, I play with my Dad — he makes me run!”
See all articles by Cynthia Sherman
About the Author
Cynthia Sherman is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.