Swooping in with an anti-obesity message

February 5, 2009

By Jim Feehan

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Former Seattle Storm encourages students to exercise more, eat right

Former Seattle Storm player Sheryl Swoopes discusses the importance of diet and exercise to prevent childhood obesity during a Jan. 16 assembly at Hazen High School.  By Jim Feehan

Former Seattle Storm player Sheryl Swoopes discusses the importance of diet and exercise to prevent childhood obesity during a Jan. 16 assembly at Hazen High School. By Jim Feehan

Students need to fight the temptation of grabbing a quick bite at fast-food restaurants and exercise more to stem the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, Sheryl Swoopes told a Jan. 16 Hazen High School assembly. During the former Seattle Storm player’s 45-minute presentation in the school’s gym, Swoopes urged students to watch what they eat and to take 10 to 20 minutes out of their day to exercise.

“It could be as simple as chasing your girlfriend around the house, or chasing your boyfriend around the house,” said Swoopes, who turns 38 next month. “Dancing is also a great form of exercise.” 

Swoopes is part of a WNBA program that encourages students to stay physically fit and eat healthy. She said the number of overweight and obese children is alarming. 

Childhood obesity has been on the rise for more than two decades. Information from two recent National Health Examination Surveys of 8,165 children ages 2-19, found about 16 percent of children and teenagers were obese, defined as having a body mass index of above the 95th percentile on U.S. growth charts. 

For example, a 10-year-old girl who is 4-foot-7 would be considered obese if her weight reached 100 pounds. By comparison, about 5 percent of children and teenagers in the U.S. were obese in the 1960s and 1970s. 

The number of obese children has almost tripled during one generation. In 1980, 6.5 percent of children ages 6-11 were obese. By 1994, the number climbed to 11.3 percent. By 2002, the number jumped to 16.3 percent. Today, it’s about 17 percent, according to surveys compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doctors say overweight and obese U.S. schoolchildren represent an entire generation that will be saddled with weight-related health problems as its ages.

Type II diabetes typically was diagnosed in adulthood, with an unhealthy lifestyle a huge contributing factor. Unfortunately, increased obesity is leading to a rise in cases of Type II diabetes in children and teens, Swoopes said.

“This is a type of diabetes that previously was not found among youth,” she said.

Swoopes said many teens don’t give enough consideration to eating healthy, but instead succumb to quick and easy fast food.

As a youngster growing up in Texas, Swoopes said she ate at fast-food restaurants, too. She began playing basketball at age 7 and exercised vigorously, she said.

In college, she led Texas Tech to the NCAA title before embarking on a professional career. She was the first player to be signed in the Women’s National Basketball Association when it was formed in 1996. She has won three Olympic gold medals and is a three-time WNBA MVP. She’s frequently referred to as the “female Michael Jordan.”

Swoopes is the first women’s basketball player to have a Nike shoe named after her — the “Air Swoopes.” On March 3, 2008, Swoopes signed with the Seattle Storm; she was release from the team Jan. 31. 

Darralita Taylor, a senior at Hazen and member of the girl’s varsity basketball team, said Swoopes’ message resonated with her.

“We have to realize eating right and exercise is important for our health,” Taylor said.

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