Published Online: February 11, 2004
Published in Print: February 11, 2004, as Take Note

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Step by Step

The days when one could look out a window and see children playing baseball, jumping rope, and riding bikes seem long gone.

"High Heat Major League Baseball 2004" on Xbox game machines seems to have largely replaced playing baseball in the park. The jump-rope rhyme "Miss Mary Mack" has given way to the rhymes of Christina Aguilera on MTV. And bicycles sit in garages, collecting dust.

To target a decreasing level of activity among children—often cited as a contributing factor in the increasing rates of youth obesity—the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the Coca-Cola Co. have teamed up to sponsor the "Step With It" program.

Students ages 10 to 14 who participate measure each step they take in an effort to boost their level of physical activity by taking 10,000 steps each day. Coca-Cola provides each student with a "stepometer," or small pedometer to track the number of steps taken.

Coca-Cola's main product is, of course, its popular soft drink, which, along with other sugar-sweetened drinks, has been linked to the increase in obesity.

"We work with companies to get out messages and not to promote products," said Judy Young, a vice president of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, a nonprofit membership organization based in Reston, Va. "They are helping students become aware of the real problem—taking in more calories than they expend."

But Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said a child would have to ride a bike for an hour and 15 minutes just to burn off the calories in a 20- ounce soda.

Introduced in 2002, the Step With It program reached 250 schools last year.

At Pound Middle School in Lincoln, Neb., 850 people, including members of the staff and students, strapped on the "stepometers" and got moving. Students found various ways to reach their goal of 10,000 steps a day. Athletes did it by engaging in their sports while wearing the devices. Other students walked by going shopping with their parents or even just jumping up and down around the house.

Chris Deibler, the principal, said it took participants about four weeks to reach their target number of steps per day.

Any drawbacks?

"The students wear out a lot of shoes," Mr. Deibler said.

—Natasha N. Smith

Vol. 23, Issue 22, Page 3

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