Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, hands off a football to a student during football drills at Pulaski International School in Chicago. Goodell attended the event where a recommitment was announced to support the Fuel Up to Play 60 program for five more years with $250 million. This in-school nutrition and physical activity program is now creating change in more than 73,000 schools.
Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, hands off a football to a student during football drills at Pulaski International School in Chicago. Goodell attended the event where a recommitment was announced to support the Fuel Up to Play 60 program for five more years with $250 million. This in-school nutrition and physical activity program is now creating change in more than 73,000 schools.

CHICAGO — The Fuel Up to Play 60 program will continue for five more years with a $250 million commitment to support the program that focuses on helping kids choose healthier foods and increase their daily movement.

This in-school program was created five years ago by a partnership of the National Football League and the National Dairy Council.

The recommitment to fund this program by these two groups in collaboration with the GENYOUth Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education was announced at Pulaski International School.

“Our extension of this great partnership we have with the dairy farmers represents the kind of activity we’re so proud to be involved with,” said Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL. “It is about the future of our country and our kids.”

“Last year, 14 million children ate better because of this program, and they got physical fitness at least once a day,” added Tom Gallagher, chairman of the GENYOUth Foundation. “It takes a private-public partnership to have a program of this magnitude.”

Part of the excitement for the kids participating in Fuel Up to Play 60 program is the opportunity to interact with present and former NFL players.

During the event at the Chicago school, kids practiced some of their football skills with former Chicago Bears players, including linebacker Otis Wilson, receiver Anthony Morgan and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer.

“The NFL players are the sizzle that brings the attraction,” Gallagher said. “There are 350 NFL players per year going into schools.”

“These Bears players can do a lot of things with their time, but they’ve chosen to be part of a program that will help kids,” added Jerry Messer, chairman of the National Dairy Council and a dairyman from North Dakota.

The council, which was started in 1915, has been teaching nutrition to kids in schools for almost a century.

“We’ve taken that knowledge we gained through all those years and formed partnerships to take this program to another level,” Messer said.

“Fuel Up to Play 60 not only helps kids learn about nutrition and exercise, but it also develops leadership skills,” he added. “You see kids taking stock in themselves and teaching other children how to be healthier.”

“I’d like to thank dairy farmers and the National Football League for providing this opportunity not only for myself, but students across the country,” said Shauna Gilles, National Fuel Up to Play 60 ambassador and an eighth-grader at Heritage Grove Middle School in Plainfield. “My journey started as something very small.”

Gilles got involved with the program when she was asked by her gym teacher.

“After signing up, I was inspired to apply to become a national ambassador,” the student said.

With this program, Gilles has worked to start a walking club and initiate school activity breaks.

“We raised $2,500 using Fuel Up cups, and I applied for a $4,000 grant to build a greenhouse at our school,” she said. “We did a taste testing to incorporate dairy into our everyday meals. Every student tried a yogurt parfait and took a survey to communicate their opinions.”

The middle school student has met NFL players from both the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers.

“But most importantly I’ve learned how to take care of myself,” she said.

“Fuel Up to Play 60 is a choice I made to be prepared physically and mentally to live my life how I want to,” Gilles added. “The time and commitment are worth it, and I can inspire other students to do the same.”

“If it were not for students like you, this program would never come to life,” said Alexis Glick, CEO of GENYOUth. “It’s a program for you, by you and it is all about empowerment and letting your voice be heard.”

Healthy students are better students, Gilles noted.

“We know there is a connection between nutrition and physical activity on academic performance,” she said.

The U.S. surgeon general released a report in 2001 in regard to the issue of overweight and obesity.

“Between 1980 and 2000, overweight and obesity had tripled among children in this country, and we were really concerned about that,” said Dr. David Satcher, a former U.S. surgeon general.

“When children are overweight and obese, there is an 80 percent chance they will be that way as adults, and there is a greater chance they will die of diabetes, heart disease, stroke or cancer,” he said.

“If we can get children to develop lifetime habits of physical activity and good nutrition, we can solve this problem,” Satcher continued. “Children spend 2,000 hours per year in school, so we believe if schools are committed to helping reduce overweight and obesity, we can be successful.”

“The goal of every school is to make sure children are educated so they can move forward in life,” said Messer, who served 14 years as a member of a school board. “Fuel Up to Play 60 not only allows us to make better citizens, but allows us to help with health care needs.

“Tom, you’ve taken a $50 million investment by dairy farmers and made it worth 100 times more with partners that allow us to move this forward,” the dairyman said. “Now, it’s not just about the dairy industry — it’s about kids, which is one focus we can never lose sight of. We have to do this for the kids.”