Encouraging kids to be active, eat healthy

The energy level was at a fever pitch when almost 80 kids from area schools took part in the Pittsburgh Steelers Fuel Up to Play 60 Skills Clinic, a reward for their efforts to promote healthy eating and physical activity.

The students were selected for their contribution to the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, which is sponsored by the Steelers and Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association. Some of them instituted healthy eating programs at their schools, while others have spearheaded fitness programs at school.

"Our message is we want kids to eat healthy, eat a balanced diet, get the foods they are not getting in their diets," said Sharon Piano, a registered dietician with Mid-Atlantic Dairy. "But we also want them to understand how important it is to be active, to play at least 60 minutes a day and do things they enjoy doing."

Former Steelers center Justin Hartwig was happy to provide guidance on activities for the kids. He led them in several drills, including quarterback, receiving and field goal drills, keeping the kids constantly moving.

"This is great," said Hartwig. "It gives us an opportunity to talk to kids about being healthy, not just being active and playing for 60 minutes a day, but eating healthy. These are things that are going to carry over to a healthy lifestyle."

Hartwig understands that technology can be a tough competitor for physical activity in kids, but stressed that being active is the way to go and will pay off in the end.

"Popular culture tells us to be interested in electronics and media," said Hartwig. "Kids buy into it. It's easy for them to get sucked into the TV and be interested in that. But if you spent that time playing kids would be a lot better off.

"When I was younger I enjoyed being active and playing and not sitting inside. It carried over into a career for me. It's important for these kids to learn while they are young what it takes to lead a healthy lifestyle. If we can encourage that they will lead a healthier and happier life."

Many of the students who took part play on sports teams at their schools, including 13-year old Rashard Wheeler who attends Sister Thea Bowman School.

"A lot of kids at this age are obese and not healthy," said Wheeler. "I play basketball for our team so I want to be active.

"Plus, you have to eat healthy. The healthier you eat the better shape you stay in. You can be more active if you eat healthy."

After finishing up the 60 minutes of drills, the kids had a healthy lunch and then enjoyed a tour of the Steelers practice facility.

"I thought it was fun," said Jordan Scott, a 12-year old who attends St. Benedict the Moor School. "I want to be play sports so if I am not active I am not going to have a chance."

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