A new partnership to improve teen health

Planet Fitness initiative is a model others should follow

Helping kids to be healthy and active is a public health priority. According to a Youth Risk Behavior survey conducted in 2015, nearly half of New Hampshire’s high school students are not getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day and more than a quarter of high school students were considered overweight or obese.

Childhood obesity can lead to numerous physical and mental health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, asthma, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Childhood obesity can also lay the groundwork for continued health problems as adults, including high blood pressure and blood cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, certain forms of cancer, clinical depression and other mental health issues.

Fighting teen obesity — helping kids get healthy and stay healthy — is not as easy as it may seem. While students may have nutritious meals at school, we don’t know what they are eating at home. Gym class may provide 30 to 45 minutes of physical activity, but only on some days. Many students don’t block out time for exercise during the summer or school breaks. Staying active not only helps to keep kids healthy, it can help build up their self-esteem.

Helping kids to be healthy and active will take many different groups working together to come up with lasting, creative and effective solutions. The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, created the Obesity Prevention Program. Our goal is to prevent and control obesity and other chronic diseases through the promotion and adoption of policies to increase healthy eating and physical activity in a variety of settings. One way we’re doing that is by collaborating with partners across the state to implement the Healthy Eating, Active Living initiative.

Government also needs to expand its collaboration with nonprofits and private businesses to help promote adolescent health and wellbeing, as we’re seeing in the fight against the opioid epidemic. We need to make sure everyone has access to safes spaces where they can be active and have access to fresh, healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.

That’s why DHHS partnered with Planet Fitness, headquartered in Hampton, supporting its PF Teen Summer Challenge. Through this New Hampshire-only pilot program, 15-to-18-year-olds had the opportunity to work out for free at all New Hampshire Planet Fitness locations over the summer. It was a great way for teens to introduce a positive, healthy habit into their daily lives. Four lucky teen participants will each win $2,500 scholarships that can be used for academic or physical fitness activities. Because of this program, teens across the state have worked out thousands of times at NH Planet Fitness locations over the summer.

Planet Fitness should be applauded by all for coming forward with a truly innovative program to advance teen health and wellness — a program they will hopefully continue next summer. It was a huge success. And I encourage other companies to follow Planet Fitness’s lead, and work with us on new initiatives to improve the health of all Granite State residents.

Jeffrey A. Meyers is commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Categories: Opinion