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SGMA's National Health-through-Fitness Day is a Winner

Date: 3/18/08

Athletes, Sports Industry Executives, P.E. Teachers, and Physical Activity Advocates Ask Congress To Support Pro-Physical Activity Initiatives

WASHINGTON, D.C. - March 18, 2008 - Overall levels of physical fitness in the U.S. will increase and the obesity rate will drop if we improve the environment for exercise and physical activity. On March 12th, a delegation of physical activity proponents traveled to Washington, D.C. to promote those goals on Capitol Hill. To make the point, one Heisman Trophy winner; three Olympic gold medalists; members of the Hall of Fame from the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball; and a host of other current and former star athletes joined the advocacy effort. The setting was the 9th Annual National Health-through-Fitness Day, organized by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). The game plan was to have a series of face-to-face discussions with Congress about the importance of federal funding for quality physical education and increasing physical activity for families by making it more accessible and more affordable for all Americans.

The group scheduled more than 100 meetings with U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives and an additional 20 meetings with key Congressional staff. Every year since 2000, SGMA has organized a day on Capitol Hill to push physical fitness initiatives as a way to improve overall health in America.

The celebrities participating in National Health-through-Fitness Day included 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker (University of Georgia); NFL Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow (Chargers); former NBA superstar Clyde Drexler (Trail Blazers & Rockets); baseball Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter (Expos, Mets, Giants, & Dodgers); U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Dominique Dawes; 2004 U.S. Olympic women's basketball gold medalist and WNBA superstar Swin Cash (Shock & Storm); former women's World Cup champion and Olympic soccer gold medalist Julie Foudy; undefeated welterweight boxing champion Andre Berto; 1974 National League MVP Steve Garvey (Dodgers & Padres); former NHL player Warren Young (Penguins & Blues); former Gold Glove catcher Mike Matheny (Cardinals, Brewers, & Giants); current NFL players Jason Campbell (Redskins), Joe Thomas (Browns), Patrick Kerney (Seahawks), Chris Cooley (Redskins), and Onzy Elam (Jets); and former NFL players Ken Harvey (Redskins & Cardinals) and John Booty (Cardinals, Jets, Giants, Eagles, & Buccaneers)

There were a number of representatives from SGMA member organizations which participated in the lobbying process. Those companies included Accusplit, Under Armour, Disney Sports, NBA, Polar Electro, Reebok, Schutt Sports Group, ICON Health & Fitness, Cramer Products, New Balance Athletic Shoe, Nike, Easton Sports, Horizon Fitness, Rawlings Sporting Goods, Russell Athletic, and Spalding.

The advocates walked the halls of Congress campaigning for two physical activity initiatives:

  • Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) provides the only federal money to school districts and community based organizations for physical education and innovative physical activity methods;
  • PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) Act (H.R. 245) is currently under consideration in Congress; PHIT will encourage improved health through increased physical activity for all Americans by making healthy, active lifestyles more affordable -- through the use of tax incentives.

PEP provides grants to local school districts and community based programs to purchase equipment and train instructors in innovative physical education methods. Since 2001, PEP has successfully enhanced K-12 physical education programs across the country through almost $500 million in grants used for training in state-of-the-art health and wellness-based physical education methods. PEP uses new technology such as heart-rate monitors, pedometers, and the acquisition of state-of-the-art fitness equipment and facilities.

The PHIT Bill, sponsored by U.S. Representative Jerry Weller (R-IL), has risen from a concept in the fall of 2005 to a viable vehicle for improving the health of Americans through physically active lifestyles. The PHIT Act would change current federal tax law to allow for the deduction or use of pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to sports, fitness and other physical activities. Once an individual or family spends 7.5% of their income on qualified medical expenses, they can deduct physical activity expenses directly. More than 45 million Americans live in families that meet the 7.5% threshold to deduct medical expenses. PHIT would also allow Americans to invest up to $1,000 annually in existing pre-tax medical accounts to pay for physical activities. PHIT would only expand the eligible expenses for pre-tax Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Health Savings Accounts (HSA), Medical Savings Accounts (MSA), and/or medical reimbursement arrangements. PHIT would not increase contribution limits to these accounts.

The consortium asked Congress to approve the PEP Bill in Fiscal Year 2009 for $100 million. In Fiscal Year 2001, the PEP Bill was approved for $5 million; $50 million in FY 2002; $60 million in FY 2003; $70 million in FY 2004; $73.4 million in FY 2005; $72.7 million in FY 2006; $73 million in FY 2007; and $75.6 million in FY 2008.

On the morning of National Health-through-Fitness Day, Herschel Walker was presented with SGMA's Lifetime Achievement Award "in recognition of his commitment to promoting physical education and active lifestyles in America." On March 13, the day after National Health-through-Fitness Day, Walker spoke to a dozen U.S. Representatives and their staffs during a breakfast gathering inside the U.S. Capitol. Walker passionately supports PEP and the PHIT Act because his personal success in sports and in business is tied directly to physical fitness. He asked those in attendance to support PEP and PHIT.

"Obesity levels in the U.S. are growing at an alarming rate," said Tom Cove, SGMA's president. "PEP will help provide Americans of all ages with an opportunity to learn about the importance of physical fitness in their daily lives. PHIT will help encourage physical activity in our lives by making it more affordable and available. Adults must incorporate regular exercise into their lifestyle and the PHIT Act will help them achieve that goal."

"With the PHIT Act and PEP, the sporting goods industry has a chance to work with the U.S. Congress to promote the importance of regular physical exercise and encourage healthy, active lifestyles. This legislation has the potential to transform this nation's attitude about fitness and physical activity," said Bill Sells, SGMA's director of government relations. "In many cases, millions of Americans are overweight due to inactivity and that trend needs to be halted. If not, the CDC projects our nation's health care costs will skyrocket to $4 trillion by 2015."

"The issue of inactivity remains a problem in this country, but PEP is making a difference and the PHIT Act has the potential to make fitness more accessible and affordable for millions of Americans," said Ron Sutton of Accusplit (Pleasanton, California).

"P.E. is a key component of the fit mind and fit body philosophy. Fitness is good for health care because it helps combat diabetes, especially among young people," said football legend Herschel Walker, who was the honorary chairman of National Health-through-Fitness Day.

"Lobbying on Capitol Hill was a dynamic experience. I think I made a difference and I feel the Congressmen with whom I spoke also appreciated being told about the positive impact that PEP is making across the country and why funding must continue," said Jim Darby of Easton Sports (Van Nuys, California).

"As a P.E. teacher from a small town in south Florida, it was an honor to have the chance to travel to Washington, D.C. to speak out as an advocate of such important legislation," said Ellen Smith, a physical education and brain gym teacher (Belle Glade, Florida).

Anybody who was unable to attend National Health-through-Fitness Day can get involved in this advocacy effort by contacting their local U.S. Representative and their two U.S. Senators to express their interest in seeing both pieces of legislation get passed.

Accusplit (the official pedometer of the PGA Tour), General Mills (makers of Wheaties, The Breakfast of Champions), Polar (the world's number one heart rate monitor), and ICON Health & Fitness (the founders & developers of NordicTrack, FreeMotion, Pro-Form, Weslo, Weider, and Image) were Supporting Sponsors of this advocacy effort. Accusplit donated pedometers to those who participated in the National Health-through-Fitness Day lobbying effort so that each person could calculate how far they walked that day on Capitol Hill. Leaders in the SGMA's Legal Task Force -- Snell & Wilmer, LLP; Frilot, LLC; Duane Morris, LLP; Morrison Mahoney, LLP; and Liner, Yankelevitz, Sunshine & Regenstreif, LLP - also generously supported National Health-through-Fitness Day.

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