No Sweat

The fitness czar fights a losing battle of the bulge with Colorado's porky kids.

Summer in Colorado means long, sunny -- and sweaty -- days in one of the fittest states in the country. Chiseled, sinewy men and women, with body-fat percentages roughly equivalent to the number of doughnuts consumed daily by the average Midwesterner, struggle to decide whether to go mountain biking, running, swimming, hiking.

Naturally, the children of these finely tuned athletes are striding alongside their panting parents into cardiac karma, right? Wrong. Odds are, they're sitting on their spongy butts playing video games.

You think you have a hard time peeling your La-Z boy or girl away from the Game Boy? Then pity poor Darryl Moore. As executive director of the Colorado Governor's Council for Physical Fitness, he tries to do so every day, for every kid in the state. Talk about physical exertion. "There's so much to do," he sighs.

Mike Gorman

Everyone knows that Colorado has one of the thinnest, most active populations in the U.S. But that's the adults, who, even outside of Boulder, can't seem to stop running. When it comes to kids, however, all signs indicate that this state's youngsters are just as hefty as pint-sized tubs across the rest of the country.

"There is a bit of a disconnect between adults and kids here," observes Joseph Brady, a specialist in behavioral change in physical activity at Metro State's Department of Human Performance, Sports and Leisure. Besides, he adds dourly, "While Colorado is fitter than the rest of the country, that ain't saying much."

At first blush, it would seem that putting a government committee in charge of fitness might be about as effective as hiring Arthur Andersen to figure out your household budget. After all, it's reasonable to ask whether an institution commonly described with words like "bloated" and "pork" really should be the top choice for trimming genuine fat. And you can't outrun the politics. Two years ago, Moore proposed changing the council's logo to remove the silhouette of the state capitol building -- a symbolic effort to distance the group's efforts from the bureaucracy. It took various committees more than a year to vet the new letterhead. Such sparring isn't unique to Colorado. In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the high-profile chairman of that state's fitness council, is in the middle of a spat with Governor Gray Davis.

Still, the Colorado council gets credit for trying. Most of its bank account is filled with corporate donations and volunteer sweat. Even though the governor isn't required to drop in on meetings, the state donates a copying machine, some mailing costs and an office -- although the last time Moore checked, the space was being used for storage.

Convened initially in 1975 by then-governor Dick Lamm to "promote fitness among Colorado citizens," the council has been going through a midlife crisis. This year, it announced that after 27 years it would no longer provide financial support for the Governor's Cup road race. Moore figured that the people who showed up to run probably weren't the ones who needed the government's help getting in shape.

Rather, he says, it's high time to ferret out the fat. "If we're there to do behavior change," he says, "we've been hitting the wrong people."

Adipose-addled adults are still a growing problem. The number of obese Coloradans climbed from 36 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 2000, a rate of increase that can't be attributed solely to the influx of Texans. Still, Moore has decided to concentrate his efforts on chubby kids, the idea being that if they change their high-calorie habits early, they will be much less inclined to balloon later.

Many of the reasons for the swelling numbers of fleshy tots and teens aren't new. "Too many damn video games," grumbles Brady. "Too much TV. You've got a lot to compete against. I mean, George Lucas can't even compete against Spider-Man, and you're going to tell your kid to take a walk?" A move to the suburbs means more car rides to school, soccer practices and sleepovers. Lurid crime reports convince parents that walking to school is an invitation to a kidnapping or a hit-and-run.

But some causes are less obvious. Even when activities are close enough to walk to, urban planners unknowingly conspire to keep kids inactive. Moore describes, for instance, the sidewalks at Fox Run in Northglenn, where he lives, which often peter out for no apparent reason, leaving children with literally no place to go except into the street. "Sidewalks these days are like big curbs," says Brady. "Our newer neighborhoods are being designed for automobiles, not for kids to bike or walk in."

Institutional pressures that take the form of social correctness also coddle kids. Neil Williams, a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, continues to update an unfortunately influential list known as the "Physical Education Hall of Shame" -- a catalogue of supposedly inappropriate games that kids are forced to play during gym class. Everyone knows by now that dodgeball -- that rite of passage in which kids rifle hard rubber balls at each other -- is allegedly damaging to epidermis and esteem. But Williams also pans Duck Duck Goose, kickball, relay races, musical chairs, tag and Simon Says.

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