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Underage & Overweight: Why local kids don't get enough exercise

By ANNA MEILER

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) -- Pushups, sit-ups, running, playing, Zumba, it doesn't matter what kids are doing as long as they get an hour of activity a day.

That's the recommended amount, according the American Heart Association, but a recent study shows only one in four kids ages 12 to 15 fulfill that requirement in the U.S.

In the Utica school district, they only get one hour of physical education a week.

"A lot of those kids they don't do anything besides that," said Nick Galiulo, a phsyical education teacher at Watson Williams in Utica.

Students only take Phys-Ed for one semester a year. With some schedules, those semesters could fall back-to-back and a student won't have gym for an entire year.

"To be honest with you the kids aren't as healthy as they used to be. I mean you see there are a lot of obese kids here in our building and it's because of inactivity one and also their diet," said Guy Puleo, a Phys-Ed teacher at Proctor High School in Utica.

Physical education teachers wish they could see students all year long, but budget cuts make that impossible and now a lack of funds are taking a toll on after school opportunities as well.

"There's also been a decrease in a number of sports teams that we've been able to offer because of the budget constraints and things like that, so we've seen a decrease in sports and we've also seen a decrease in participation as well," said Puleo.

Galiulo is also the varsity soccer coach at Proctor High School and has had seasons where over 100 kids try out. This year he only had 20.

"It's very easy with the TV and video games and it's very easy to get that lazy and not really care much about activities anymore. That stuff is fun too, but a lot of times they don't see the fun in going outside and just being active in the community," he said.

Programs like the Black River Outdoor Education Program are trying to get kids moving again and provide access to activity- another blockade to staying fit. They bus students from schools within an hour radius of Boonville for free.

"We teach kids healthy ways to enjoy the outdoors, be active and get them outside having fun the ways we always used to growing up simply mountain biking. You get kids out there that have never even been on a bicycle, so we teach them how for the first time and it's really great," said Heintz.

Heintz also attends events like the annual family activity night at the Staley Elementary School in Rome, hoping to show kids that despite the cold Central New York winters, there is plenty to do, like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, building snow forts.

"All you have to do is teach them the skills to go outside and do it in a fun way so that they're dressed properly, they have enough nutrition to have their tanks full of energy and it's really simple to get them happy and excited to be there," said Heintz.

An hour of activity a day lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, it increases confidence, reduces stress and it translates into classroom success as well.

"Even 15 to 20 minutes of activity first thing in the morning before they go to school, it increases their brain activity and they learn at a much greater rate," said Heintz.

Family activity nights, gym classes and outdoor programs are all working to reverse these discouraging statistics, but they can't do it alone.

"I urge the parents. Control your kids' diets, make sure they get active, get them out weather permitting. Get outside and be active and play outside, get them involved in extracurricular activities. I mean cause we can't do it all here. We need support at home too," said Puleo.

If we don't take action now, Diane Penell, a physical education teacher at Staley Elementary says, "We're facing the first generation where the parents may outlive some of their kids and that's a really scary thought."

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Helpful Links:

Black River Outdoor Education Program

Tips to get kids active

Healthy eating tips for kids

Recommendations for physical activity in children

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