Teaming Up to Tackle Childhood Obesity

Indianapolis Colts PLAY 60 youth football camp (1)
NFL PLAY 60 Los Angeles Rams

Defensive tackle #69 Sebastian Joseph-Day of the Los Angeles Rams at the Rams Play 60 Character Camp at Bill Robertson field, in Los Angeles Ca., on September 10th, 2019.(Daniel Bowyer/Rams)

How The Cooper Institute and the NFL Foundation are improving youth health across the country

Few organizations have done more to improve the health and fitness of kids than the National Football League (NFL) and its nonprofit arm, the NFL Foundation. The league’s flagship fitness program, NFL PLAY 60, is a national youth health and wellness campaign with a mission to encourage kids to get physically active for at least 60 minutes a day.

As childhood obesity rates continue to rise, NFL PLAY 60 rises to the top as one of the few programs proven to make an impact on the fitness and health of millions of children. Since launching the program in 2007 with the American Heart Association, the NFL Foundation has committed over $352 million to youth health and fitness through NFL PLAY 60 programming and grants, in addition to media time for public service announcements.

The NFL PLAY 60 campaign is designed to tackle childhood obesity by getting kids active through in-school, after-school and team-based programs and through many partnerships with like-minded organizations, including The Cooper Institute. Supporting programs like Fuel Up to Play 60, a partnership between the NFL and the National Dairy Council (NDC), add nutrition education to round out the health and wellness program.

“Fuel Up to Play 60 has completely changed the way I get the energy I need throughout the day and has increased my success academically and physically,” said Jimena Tinoco, Youth Council Member and former Texas State Ambassador for the Fuel Up to Play 60 program. “Fuel Up to Play 60 has changed my performance in class and on the soccer field.”

Validating NFL PLAY 60 with science

FitnessGram by The Cooper Institute assesses the physical and aerobic fitness of more than 10 million students across the country in over 20,000 schools.

Over a decade ago, the NFL Foundation partnered with The Cooper Institute on the NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project, bringing together the nationally recognized NFL PLAY 60 program with the scientific validity of FitnessGram. This project is the largest and most ambitious school-based fitness research initiative to date with over 1,000 schools and after-school programs actively enrolled. Insights from this project inform best practices for thousands of other FitnessGram schools across the country.

In 2015, the first-ever scientific study of NFL PLAY 60 programming was conducted by The Cooper Institute using the FitnessGram assessment to measure the aerobic capacity, body composition and overall physical health of kids across the country in NFL PLAY 60 programs. The results show that kids in these programs have improved aerobic capacity and reduced body mass index compared to students in schools not utilizing the NFL PLAY 60 programs. Additional research shows that improvements to student fitness and health can also lead to better attendance, higher reading and math scores, and may even reduce behavioral problems in school.

“Today’s youth are less active, more overweight and unhealthier than ever before,” said Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, the “Father of Aerobics” and founder of The Cooper Institute. “Nearly 75% of young adults are not fit for military service because of obesity and poor fitness. We have to make serious changes if we want to protect the future of our children and our country.”

Home is the foundation of healthy habits

Whether your child’s school is a participant in a FitnessGram initiative or not, you’ll want to encourage your kids to get active at home. Below are a few simple ways to get your kids more active at home:

  • If possible, have your kids walk or bike to and from school.
  • Make it a family ritual to take a walk around the neighborhood after dinner most evenings.
  • Have your kids help out with daily household chores and outdoor seasonal tasks such as raking leaves, weeding and shoveling snow.
  • Limit overall screen time and keep media, including TVs, out of your child’s bedroom.
  • Spend quality time with your kids on weekends by engaging in physical activities like running, going on bike rides, hiking, playing soccer and more.
  • Be an active role model for your children by regularly participating in physical activities you enjoy.

Greater participation in school-based fitness programs like NFL PLAY 60 can improve the health of American children and build habits they can carry with them into adulthood where poor health is driving up the cost of healthcare and driving down productivity.

Learn more about the NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project here.

Leaving a legacy for future generations

The Cooper Institute will recognize the impact of NFL PLAY 60 programs at its 2019 Legacy Award Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 6:00 p.m. at The Belo Mansion in Dallas. Executive chairs for the event are long-time board trustees Arthur Blank and Roger Staubach.

Anderson will accept the Legacy Award on behalf of the NFL Foundation. The Honorable Betsy Price, Mayor of Fort Worth, will receive the Well.Hero award for transforming health and wellness in Fort Worth through the Blue Zones Project. Retired Brig. Gen. Charlie Duke, Apollo 16 astronaut and the 10th and youngest man to walk on the moon, will deliver the keynote address.


Written by The Cooper Institute

The Cooper Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 1970 by Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, to promote life-long health and wellness worldwide through research, education and advocacy. By improving public health, The Cooper Institute helps people lead longer, healthier lives now and #WELLintothefuture.