Gear Talk: Jim Baugh, PHIT America, Part Two

Saturday, February 16, 2013 /by

I recently spoke with Jim Baugh, former President of Wilson and the TIA (Tennis Industry Association). Baugh is now leading the day-to-day operations for PHIT America, an advocacy group started by the SFIA (Sports and Fitness Industry Association), which is bridging corporate sponsors, legislators, and the grass-roots organization Kids in the Game as a way to both expand industry sales and encourage Americans to live more healthfully. In part two of our interview, we discuss PHIT America’s efforts to conserve current levels of federal funding for P.E. programs in schools, as well as its message that regular exercise can improve people’s health, reduce healthcare costs, and balance the federal budget.

(Click here for part one of our interview, on the organization’s promotion of the PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) Act, which seeks to incentivize all Americans to exercise and play sports, tennis included, by subsidizing related expenses.)

Disclosure: The Tennis Media Company is a PHIT America Alliance Sponsor.

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Justin diFeliciantonio: We’ve spoken a lot about the PHIT Act, which is PHIT America’s primary initiative. But your organization is also advocating that the federal government continue to support PEP (Physical Education Program), which each year, through the Department of Education, provides several dozen U.S. school districts with grants to improve their P.E. programs. How much PEP money is distributed each year? Is PHIT America lobbying Congress to maintain current levels of funding? Or increase them?

Jim Baugh: With the current environment in Congress, trying to increase spending would be very hard right now for us to accomplish. Now in my heart, I’d like to see the program expand. The 78 million dollars PEP gets every year is a drop in the bucket. It should be 10, 20 times that amount. But we’re conscious of our environment, of the U.S. budget, so we’re saying, “Let’s keep that status quo.” Keep in mind, this is the only spending for physical education in the entire Department of Education budget. I helped write that piece of legislation ten years ago with Tom Cove, who’s the President and CEO of the SFIA [Sports and Fitness Industry Association]. Every year, we go to Washington, and if PEP’s not in the budget, we fight to keep it in. And so far, every year we’ve been successful, primarily through our main lobby day, National Health Through Fitness Day.

So we want to keep PEP the same. But again, it should be a lot bigger. Only 10 percent of all applicants have gotten a PEP grant. There’s a starving need for this. According to a study done by AAHPERD [American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance], the governing body of phys. ed. teachers, the average American school’s P.E. budget is only $764 per year. And 48 percent of high schools have no P.E. at all.

JD: That last statistic you cite is puzzling. Aren’t there laws in place mandating P.E. programs in all high schools?

JB: Well, some states have it, but there are so many waivers and exceptions. Our country lost total focus on physical activity when No Child Left Behind passed. Do you know anything about that legislation?

JD: It was passed during the Bush Administration, and mandated that all schools meet certain academic standards in order to qualify for federal funding, no?

JB: Right. No Child Left Behind passed, and what did schools get rated on? Academics. Reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. And what you get rated on is what people do. So many schools said, “Music, arts, physical education? Goodbye! We don’t need you, because you’re not what we’re going to be held accountable for.” But we all forgot that we need a healthy body for a healthy, active mind. It’s come back to haunt us.

Have our academics gone up significantly in that time frame? No. That’s because, in part, our bodies aren’t moving as much! There’s definite evidence that kids who are moving, their brains are functioning better; once they’re more fit and active, their academic levels go up. This is conclusive. I can just tell you from experience: In the morning, when I get on my bike and ride around for 45 to 50 minutes, afterwards my mind is wired and thinking better. So it’s imperative that we restore physical education to a respectable level. It doesn’t have to be five days a week. But every school should be required to get their kids to be active two, three, four days a week, whatever they can possibly put into the schedule.

JD: On PHITAmerica.org, you say PEP money is important, because it allows many schools to purchase equipment and train teachers and staff. What’s the exact nature of this spending?

JB: A lot of schools, actually, when they get a grant, they invest it in heart-rate monitors for each kid, as well as video technology that’s tied to fitness. There are a lot of tests teachers today are able to give children to measure their fitness levels. Just like you get a report card for your grade, now you can get a report card for your health in phys. ed. When I was young, lots of times they’d just throw out a ball and let the kids play. That’s increasingly not the case today. The new P.E. is much more individualized, so kids get a lot more out of it. There’s a whole page on our website about what some of the schools are using the PEP grants for.

JD: Speaking more generally about Americans’ health, your website cites a startling statistic: According to research published by the CDC [Center for Disease Control], in 2010, 60 percent of Americans ages 20 and over are either overweight or obese. Without question, being overweight can predispose one to innumerable health and cognitive problems. And as a nation, obesity is straining our healthcare system; the CDC estimates that obese patients, on average, cost $1,400 more per year to treat than the non-obese. Which, do you believe, is more to blame for this trend? Our nation’s inactivity or our poor eating habits? Or are there other factors at play?

JB: It’s complicated. I think there are multiple reasons that so many people are overweight. But what stands out to me is that, as of late, the focus has definitely been on food. How much of the P.R. has been about the way you eat? I’d say that it’s about 75 percent of what we talk about as a society—sodas, fatty foods, things like that. It’s three to one versus, “You’ve got to get active.” Of course, there should be a focus on food, no question. But we’ve also got to solve this inactivity crisis in our country, because not moving is bad for your mind as well as your body.

In fact, there are a lot of people who aren’t overweight but aren’t healthy, either. You could take a very fit person, and if they sit around all day and do nothing, after a while their health is going to suffer. We need to make changes to our lifestyles. As a society—what with computers and people not walking up steps and kids not riding bikes to school—we’ve become somewhat lazy. We need to get moving again.

JD: I’ve always thought it’s an interesting trend in our society that—if you look at professional athletes, they’re continuing to get fitter, more sophisticated in their training; but on the other hand, it seems like the general public’s level of fitness has been steadily declining for decades. 

JB: Well, step back a little from what you’re seeing on TV. Professional sports have become more entertaining, but they’re also contested at a level many Americans can’t really relate to. True, there are serious sports participants who strive to be like the pros, but that’s not the case for most people. In fact, many kids these days are turned off of sports, simply because they’re not good enough to be part of a traveling team. What PHIT America is pushing is just play. Fun is the most important thing here. That’s what’s going to motivate more people to get active and fit. We’re not saying that everyone should reach the fitness levels of the best athletes. We’re saying each person should push to be the best physically that they can be. That’s where heart-rate monitors and other technologies that evaluate fitness level come into play. I may only be able to work out to one level; you may be able to work out at a higher level. Let’s keep it individualized.

JD: The CDC has made it clear that an obese population is more expensive to treat medically than a fitter one. To what extent will improving our nation’s fitness lower healthcare costs?

JB: There was a study done by the World Health that stated that for every dollar invested in physical activity, there are three dollars and twenty cents in healthcare savings. That’s a major ROI. Think about it: $1 invested, $3.20 in return. Also, the Trust for America’s Health has done studies showing what would happen to the cost of healthcare if BMI (Body Mass Index) were lowered nationwide. If we lower BMI 5 percent, we’ll save about $40 million dollars in healthcare costs.

JD: Toward this end, what resources does PHIT America offer to people who are looking to become more active?

JB: On PHITAmerica.org, we’ve put together what you might call the yellow pages of fitness and sports activities. This should provide every American with opportunities to get involved in physical activities in their local communities. There are 60 different sports and fitness activities listed. Go there. Click on the ways you want to get active. And you’ll find that all of them lead to a web page, where you can put in your zip code and find a program, instructor, or league in your area. It’s a resource that people should definitely access, especially people who’ve moved from one area to another, or those trying to figure out which sports to try. This is to serve America and get them active again.

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