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Its time to get our kids on the go

'Habits become nature.'

Ñ Chinese proverb

If you have ever tried to change a behavior pattern, you know it is not easy. We humans are creatures of habit.

To reverse the looming epidemic of inactivity and obesity Ñ which our state epidemiologist, Dr. Mel Kohn, has framed so eloquently Ñ will take collective action and a long-term commitment by individuals and society.

It is our youth who are ultimately suffering the most from this crisis:

• For the first time, American kids may have shorter life spans than their parents because of inactivity and poor diet.

• P.E. classes are virtually nonexistent for many school children today, as a result of budget constraints, curricula and standardized test pressures. An additional factor is a lack of understanding about the importance fitness plays in the social and academic success of our kids.

• It has become more difficult for kids to 'go outside and play' in the more complicated times in which we live.

• Most children find TV and computer games a far more seductive alternative when they have free time. In fact, children in the United States sit in front of a TV or computer an average of 5 1/2 hours per day, seven days a week, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study conducted in 1999.

Our society Ñ and we adults Ñ need to look at the patterns that we choose for ourselves and deliver to our children.

Nike has been working for years to provide inspiration, products and facilities to enable kids to lead healthy, active lives. We've introduced a new community initiative called NikeGo, where we have engaged our athletes, employees and our grant programs to help inspire kids to get off the couch.

The mission of NikeGo is to increase physical activity in youth by offering thousands of children ages 8 to 15 the motivation to discover the joy of movement and the fun of physical activity. This is about movement, not competitive sports.

Our first-year pilot features 32 after-school programs, by kids for kids, with local Boys & Girls Clubs in 16 cities. Next year we look forward to launching in-school and summer partnerships to expand opportunities for kids in all the communities where we live and work.

Locally, we also partnered with the Portland Parks Foundation to resurface every outdoor basketball court Ñ 95 in all Ñ in the city parks system with a unique world class surface made from recycled athletic shoes.

We're partnering with experts such as the Centers for Disease Control, and others such as San Diego State University, to help get kids more active and give them the means to do it.

What can we all do, right now, to start changing habits?

• Unglue from the tube, and go.

• Get on a bike, and go.

• Give gifts that keep on going (skates, balls, jump ropes, etc.).

• Join a club full of movers, shakers and go-ers.

• Schedule go-time every week.

• If your feet can take you there, let them go.

• Find out how kids like to go, and help them do it.

• Get involved in after-school activities so you're on the go all day long.

• Go run wild in the park.

• Use your imagination Ñ take kids to safe places to get active, get moving and get going.

We need to remember that this is a long-term commitment and that creating deeply rooted cultural lifestyles is extremely hard to do. Previous campaigns aimed at changing American lifestyles demonstrate the breadth of resources and time commitment necessary to create change.

Working together, we as parents, teachers and coaches can begin a social movement by ensuring we are modeling behaviors, forming good habits and providing kids with the programs and opportunities they need to be active and stay active for the rest of their lives.

Molly White is director of U.S. community affairs for Beaverton-based Nike Inc. For more information, visit www.nikego.com. She lives in Southwest Portland with her husband and two children. She does not own a television.