NewswireToday - /newswire/ -
New York, NY, United States, 2008/08/07 - With nearly 40% of youth in the U.S. overweight or obese, one nonprofit after-school program aims to change these daunting statistics armed with what they say are the most advanced obesity-fighting tools in the world: soccer balls.
When schools begin this fall, in 15 cities across the United States, America SCORES will be using the world's favorite game to get kids active and teach good exercise and nutrition habits. America SCORES is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization that works in partnership with urban public schools to create after-school leagues of soccer teams. Rather than gathering only the best players together, these teams are comprised of children at-risk for obesity and in need of opportunities to exercise that are otherwise not available during their school day.
“Children at an early age need to be exposed to the joys of physical activity,” says Paul Caccamo, President of America SCORES. “What if one sport played in nearly every community in the world were transported into our nation’s cities to fight childhood obesity where’s it’s hitting the worst?” Caccamo says soccer is ideal. “It’s a team sport, accessible to kids of all shapes and sizes. Girls get to play by the same rules as boys. And, what’s most important, there’s a whole lot of running involved!”
Unfortunately, neighborhoods with decreased economic and social resources have greater rates of obesity due to limited opportunities for physical activity and reduced access to healthy foods. Additionally, studies show that black and Hispanic children are disproportionately heavy in comparison to their white peers. Nevertheless, many urban children in the U.S. do not even have the opportunity to participate in any organized sport until high school.
“That’s too late,” claims Dr. Rania Dempsey, a childhood obesity specialist at the Medical School of Wisconsin. “Children form good habits like exercising very early on. In urban communities where the obesity epidemic is hitting worst, waiting until high school to inspire an athlete may have dramatic impacts on whether a child experiences heart disease or diabetes.”
By getting kids to play soccer for 6 hours a week, America SCORES provides its young players ten times the national average of physical activity for elementary-aged youth. An independent evaluation by Philliber Research Associates showed that America SCORES participants increased their aerobic capacity by an average of 21% after just six months, and were 61% more likely to exercise outside of program than before.
“Soccer is not the only component of the program,” Caccamo is quick to add. “We use the teamwork to inspire academic achievement among our young players as well. But soccer is a starting point.”
For Yoldanda G., a 10-year old from Milwaukee who joined her America SCORES team weighing more than 200 pounds, the concept of being a soccer player was frightening at first. She could barely complete one drill or excercise in the first practices. However, after 20 weeks of America SCORES programming, Yoldanda became an active team participant on the soccer field and off, losing weight and gaining unparallelled confidence in herself. Yoldanda now has a team full of new friends, too.
About America SCORES
America SCORES (AmericaSCORES.org) is a national model for youth development targeting girls and boys in urban neighborhoods that offer few, if any, recreational programs. This five-day per week after-school program works to enrich the lives of inner-city youth through regular participation and skill building in creative writing and soccer. Teamwork – the key to success in both education and sports -- is the common denominator.