More than halfway across the country, from his home-based headquarters in Jupiter, Fla., Jim Baugh received what he wanted – more affirmation of a lifetime spent preaching, in a number of different roles, about the part of us that gets stripped away when we refuse to stay active. And while that may be putting it a little more mildly than Baugh would like, his heart rate admittedly rises when he starts talking about the national consciousness of, well, just doing nothing.
At 66, the former president of Wilson Sporting Goods, whose esteemed career and accomplishments landed him in both the Sporting Good Industry and Tennis Hall of Fames, is working even harder today to get everybody – kids and adults alike – into a state of constant motion. And while Levine may have coined the phrase – “Sitting is the new smoking” – Baugh can rattle off myriad statistics on how the inactivity pandemic is linked, but not limited, to the likes of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, muscular pain/discomfort, cancer and even academic performance.
In 2013, within a couple of years of each of his hall of fame inductions, Baugh founded PHIT America, a national non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the physical activity levels and health of all Americans. PHIT, which stands for Personal Health Investment Today, is an acronym that Baugh had been wearing on his sleeve long before he officially started the foundation. “Kids are more and more sedentary,” Baugh says. “They are not learning any physical activity attributes or skills. They’re becoming unhealthier. So, I said to myself, ‘Wow. Is there’s something we can do as an industry, or I can do as a person, to change this whole dynamic to initially try to get people to play sports and be active?'”
Baugh’s passion for physical activity started long before he founded PHIT. Every step he has made in his professional endeavors led him to this moment. As a former athlete working part-time at Herman’s Sporting Goods, Baugh was approached by Marty Devlin, the assistant athletic director at Rider University, about heading a PE program at Blessed Sacrament in Trenton, N.J. With dreams of one day being a GM for a professional sports team, Baugh was a little hesitant. “I’m not a teacher,” he shot back.
But with Devlin’s reassuring insistence, Baugh tackled his new position and created a program that within two years would become the envy of programs everywhere. And then the light bulb went off, and Baugh started to envision ways to rebuild PE programs school-by-school; kid-by-kid. While it would take a career’s worth of achievements at Converse, Prince and Wilson, retirement, and an even larger set of alarming physical inactivity statistics to set things in motion, Baugh knew what he needed to do.
Much of the premise for PHIT America can be traced to his work with an organization he helped lead in the sporting goods industry called PE4Life, which, among other things, sent a delegation of industry leaders, athletes and celebrities through the halls of Congress campaigning to help restore grants to local school districts. On their docket was a plan to help purchase equipment, and hire/train teachers for health and wellness-based PE programs left in disarray by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, passed in 2001.
NCLB, which has since been replaced, sought to advance American competitiveness and close the achievement gap between poor and minority students, and their more advantaged peers. PE was one of the programs impacted by the controversial legislation.
“I’ve been going to Washington, D.C., for 15 years now,” Baugh says. “It’s not one of the favorite parts of my job, but I do it because it’s important. Back in the early days, there was some push back, but over the last few years with the PHIT Act, the meetings are much better. It’s all just a matter of timing. The timing is right now.”
Timing is everything
Here’s a statistic that will scare you, or at least Baugh hopes it does. Today, physical inactivity is the No. 4 killer in the world, behind high blood pressure, tobacco use and high blood glucose, respectively. Ironically, being overweight or obese holds the No. 5 position.
These are statistics that may lead to the first generation of kids that are less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, according to a Surgeon General report.
Oh, and it gets worse – much worse. According to PHIT America’s “Inactivity Pandemic Report 2017,” 33 million children today in America are not active three times a week or more, while 10 million are deemed “total couch potatoes.” In addition, three quarter of all U.S. teens are not fit enough right now to join the military.
And, if you want a topper in relation to fitness levels, which Baugh swears he can produce at will, of the 50 developed countries in the world, the United States ranks 47th. Yes, you read that right. “We are a country that has made life easier for our kids, but not better,” Baugh says. “As physical activity has slipped overall, it might be easier and feel okay, but to me, we’ve deteriorated the health of our country. And that’s on all of us. We cut PE in schools. We have moms and dad who aren’t engaged as they used to be in their kids physical activities, some who say, ‘Go over there and play on your electronic device.’ We cannot be content on not moving.”
“As physical activity has slipped overall, it might be easier and feel okay, but to me, we’ve deteriorated the health of our country. And that’s on all of us.”
Baugh says the reasons are simple and straightforward. It’s the way we’re eating and moving (or not moving). “When you combine these two things, it’s not healthy for the body, the mind and spirit, and to me, it’s deadly. It wakes me up in the middle of the night.”
That’s when Baugh did what any person who constantly wakes up in the middle of the night racked by numbers rattling around in his head – he acted. Through PHIT America, Baugh can take the steps he believes are needed to spur people and companies into action. Since 2013, more than 100 companies and organizations have joined the PHIT America Alliance, each of which share Baugh’s vision of creating a movement that can help transform the nation’s physical fitness landscape.
One of the foundation’s programs is the “PHIT America GO! Grants,” which have been awarded to almost 300 schools nationwide. The grants help get children get active for the first time or increase their physical activity and fitness levels. Leading brands like Nike, ASICS, adidas, Augusta, Under Armour, Brooks, Everlast, ETS, Franklin, Johnson Health, Keiser, Life Fitness, New Balance, Rawlings, Reebok, Riddell, Speedo, Technogym, Wilson, the U.S.T.A. (United States Tennis Association), among many others, are investing in the grant program. Donations from individuals also enable PHIT to reach more children in more schools across the country.
At the top of Baugh’s “most proud” list also is a 30-minute documentary that will take an inside look at the inactivity pandemic. The video, which will air in spots nationally, includes interviews with parents and teachers about the benefits of exercise on academic performance. It also will expose the great impact PHIT America is doing with its “GO! Grant” program.
“We have to turn these inactivity numbers around,” Baugh says. “There still is much work to do. We’ve created something in the last four years and we know it works. It will help so many aspects of life. We talked about the education piece. If we don’t turn these kids around physically, I don’t think we’ll ever turn them around educationally. Lack of movement is deadly for a child’s ability to be able to learn properly. It’s all about working together and stepping up to do your part.”
“FROM A HEALTHCARE STANDPOINT, WE HAVE TO PREVENT HEALTHCARE COSTS, AND NOT JUST COME UP WITH NEW PILLS, SURGERIES OR PROCEDURES TO TREAT SICK PEOPLE.”
Baugh says that in the long run, fixing this inactivity pandemic can only be good for our kids and country long-term. “From a healthcare standpoint, we have to prevent healthcare costs, and not just come up with new pills, surgeries or procedures to treat sick people. What could be a better solution to our healthcare crisis than preventing healthcare costs before they arise.”
How you can get involved
PHIT America is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation dedicated to increasing physical activity and fitness to improve the health of all Americans. To see how you can help support the PHIT America campaign, click here (companies) or here (individuals).Companies Individuals
Michael J. Pallerino is the Director of Content at Conduit, Inc.