Officials kick off anti-obesity campaign

ELLENBORO – Veterans of Mountaineer football spoke Thursday to Ritchie County Middle School students, urging them to get active and stay fit.

The program is part of a statewide initiative to address childhood obesity.

“Our entire agenda is how can we improve our lives?” said Ritchie County Schools Superintendent Ed Toman. “Healthy children, healthy adults.”

Former WVU football coach Don Nehlen was among the featured speakers at Thursday’s event.

“I will say this to you young people: You only have one body, take care of it,” Nehlen said to a gathering of sixth-grade students. “Move, do something each day.”

Aaron Beasley, a West Virginia University Hall of Famer and retired NFL cornerback, said having a vision for yourself is the key to good health.

“Focus. Find a purpose and set some goals,” he said. “You have to see yourself doing things. You have to see yourself being great. You’ve got to see yourself being fit.”

Former Mountaineer Jimmy Gary, an actor and retired NFL player, said it is all a matter of attitude.

“Exercise is not a negative thing. It is a positive thing,” he said. Gary said to take daily frustrations and worries and “focus that energy into exercise. I guarantee you’ll feel better.”

Audrey Rowe, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., said programs designed to counter a culture of obesity can only go so far. Ultimately it is up to the children themselves to embrace those healthy life choices and make the necessary changes.

“We are here because we have a commitment to you,” Rowe told the students. “Now you need to make that commitment to yourselves. You can control your health. You can make your decisions. You can choose to eat healthy and to be active.”

Emily Murphy, an obesity prevention specialist with the WVU Extension Service, said the partnership between WVU’s football program, the ‘nPLAY Foundation and the schools came from a challenge issued to the college program to help find a way to reduce childhood obesity stats in West Virginia.

The active lifestyles program was developed by the ‘nPLAY Foundation, a nonprofit organization of active and retired professional athletes dedicated to encouraging schoolchildren to be active and eat healthier. The ‘nPLAY Foundation is affiliated with the HealthierUS School Challenge.

“I’d been working with Eric Cohen (founder and the executive director of the ‘nPlay Foundation) to bring this program to West Virginia for a while now,” Murphy said. “The Mountaineers are like our pro team here in West Virginia. I can tell the kids to eat healthy and exercise and it may go in one ear and out the other. Our hope is when these athletes deliver the message, it may stick a little better with the kids.”

The foundation is a coalition of 40 professional athletes, both active and retired, representing 17 sports. These athletes have united to fight childhood obesity by working with administrators, teachers, students and parents to make schools a place where kids can be active, eat healthier and integrate wellness into everyday culture.

Following the kickoff, Beasley and Gary gathered students to participate in a demonstration of the HOPSports “Brain Breaks” system, an electronic game that gets children up and moving for short periods of time during the day to help improve mind and body connections, as well as promote physical activity. HOPSports Inc. donated five systems to Ritchie County Schools to help kick off the program.