For many, childhood memories were full of games of tag, capture the flag during gym class, or unknowingly learning conflict resolution during recess, away from the watchful eye of a teacher. Today, many children are collecting far different memories. Instead of daily gym class, one in three children struggle through each day with obesity or being overweight. Instead of building social skills during recess, children are learning to manage type-2 diabetes, which increased 30 percent in children from 2000 to 2009. Children should not be faced with managing hypertension or high cholesterol, but the reality of today is that they are. Through a variety of avenues, our nation as a whole has virtually engineered physical activity out of our daily lives. As we face one-fifth of GDP spending on healthcare, we simply cannot afford this lifestyle. Our children deserve better.
In an effort to combat the growing childhood health crises by focusing on prevention, The Cooper Institute hosted its inaugural Cooper Capitol Day in Austin on February 28th, bringing together a dynamic group of volunteers with a singular purpose – to help raise a healthier generation in Texas. Cooper Capitol Day was a unique opportunity for passionate advocates to engage in the legislative process and advocate for change by serving as a voice for quality physical education, fitness assessment and the impact a healthier generation has on society as a whole. Cooper Capitol Day brought together business leaders, teachers, mothers, fathers, physicians, veterans and community advocates to educate Texas’ elected representatives on the current healthcare crisis and work toward meaningful, preventive solutions.
Led by The Cooper Institute’s Advocacy Committee chair, Bob Shapard, CEO of Oncor, and Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the day began with a dynamic luncheon featuring Mission Readiness representative, Rear Admiral Judson Scott, who spoke to guests on the importance of raising a generation that is not just mission ready, but citizen ready. In recent estimates, the State of Texas received a “D” from Mission Readiness on preparing young Texans to be citizen ready. In Texas, 73% of the state population aged 17-24 is ineligible to serve in the military, largely due to obesity and lack of physical fitness and inadequate education. Nationally, the estimates do not fare much better coming in at just over 70% ineligibility. Following Admiral Scott, Frisco Independent School District Superintendent, Dr. Jeremy Lyon, shared his insights on just how important physical education and physical activity are to youth development. Today, over one-third of the youth population is overweight or obese, up to eighty percent do not achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day, and far too few students have the opportunity to participate in unstructured recess, after school sports programs or even safe, walkable routes to school. The body of research correlating student fitness to academic achievement continues to grow, illustrating time after time that fit kids do better.
Following lunch, Cooper Capitol Day continued with legislative visits at the Capitol. Gardere partner and The Cooper Institute Board of Trustees member Steve Good joined the Executive Director of the Texas Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (TAHPERD), Diana Everett, for a member meeting with Representative Trent Ashby, Subcommittee Chairman of Appropriations. Community volunteer and mother of three, Jennifer Wagner joined Bob Shapard, Dr. Cooper and Oncor Senior Vice President, Debbie Dennis, for a visit with Representative Jason Villalba. Dr. Stephen Pont, Medical Director with the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity, joined Cheryl McCarver, Vice President of Children’s Medical Center, along with additional Cooper Capitol Day volunteers to present Senator Jane Nelson with the inaugural Well. Hero. award. Senator Nelson, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has been a longtime champion for children’s health and wellness in Texas and The Cooper Institute was pleased to honor her for her many contributions. Angie Cooper, daughter-in-law of Dr. Cooper and mother of three, was also on hand making the rounds in the Capitol. Cooper Capitol Day included over 20 legislative office visits with Representatives, Senators and staff including the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. Lawmakers were armed with new, and often times, eye-opening information on the state of children’s health, the current interventions available, and what can and should be done to build a brighter, healthier future.
Cooper Capitol Day concluded with a meet and greet with Dr. Cooper in the Capitol Members Lounge, where members flowed in and out, shaking the hand of the “Father of Aerobics” while reaffirming their commitment to ensure Texas’ most precious resource have the opportunity to grow into healthy, citizen-ready Texans. As Dr. Cooper always says, “It is easier to raise a healthy child, than heal a sick adult.” Truer words were never spoken.
While Cooper Capitol Day focused on Texas, The Cooper Institute will continue to advocate for meaningful public health policies across the nation. We will continue to join forces with partner organizations from around the country, as we advocate and educate on the power of prevention, from coast to coast. From ensuring greater financial access to preventive physical activities through the PHIT Act to quality physical education in schools across the nation, The Cooper Institute will work with stakeholders nationwide, ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to live Well. Into the Future.Learn more about The Cooper Institute’s advocacy efforts.
Claire Leigh Kinzy
Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs