The following is an Op-Ed written by Scott Goudeseune, CEO of the American Council on Exercise.
Spring is here, and this year, with it comes an opportunity to keep families active regardless of the cost. A current bill in Congress known as the Personal Health Investment Today Act (PHIT) has the potential to ensure that a healthy and active lifestyle for children is something all families can afford.
If passed, PHIT could lower the financial barrier to healthy, physical activity programs and serve as a major stepping stone in the journey to transform the current view of physical movement from a hobby to a basic human need, necessary for a healthy body and mind.
We know youth sports build self-esteem and teach kids the value of fitness, healthy habits and teamwork, but the culture—and cost—of childhood physical activity options today has shifted and has had a profound effect on the health of our nation; specifically on the childhood obesity crisis.
Raising a healthy, active child in the 21st century now includes league fees, equipment, travel costs, uniforms and much more. Free leagues have been forced to emerge as "pay-to-play" sports, making participation even more prohibitive. It's enough to stretch most families' budgets so thin that parents may be forced to limit or eliminate organized exercise and all of its benefits for their children.
Changes to school district funding and inevitable budget cuts have forced some schools to institute pay-to-play models for intramural and competitive school sports as well. Competitive junior teams have replaced cul-de-sac soccer games while longer classes and more homework has replaced recess.
Fortunately, solutions to keeping families active in organized and pay-to-play activities exist. PHIT would allow many types of physical activity to be considered qualified medical expenses, finally acknowledging the necessity of physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle and a key aspect of the solution to our country's obesity epidemic.
By allowing Americans to use a pre-tax Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) to pay for organized physical activity, more families would have affordable access to activities such as recreational and competitive youth and adult sports, swimming lessons, dance classes, gym memberships, personal trainers and much more.
Now, we have an opportunity to implement new solutions for families nationwide. We can still support the family's choice to participate in organized physical activities as additional forms of exercise that are vital for a healthy life.
Overwhelmingly, studies show that physical activity plays an important role in preventing and managing chronic diseases—the same diseases that are responsible for 86 percent of our national healthcare costs. Healthcare policies consider physical activity expenses a luxury, but science has shown exercise to be just as vital to preventing chronic disease as medicines are to treating illness. The antidote to chronic disease exists, but insurance companies don't cover its cost... yet.
While PHIT has earned bi-partisan support in Congress, it will not pass without strong advocacy from voters. We need to act now and harness the full force of America's families to convince Congress to pass this bill.
This is where you come in. What truly makes a difference is when people like you—the parents—make your voices heard by reaching out to your elected officials. Let them know how vital the measure is in addressing America's physical inactivity and chronic disease epidemics, not only for you and your family, but for the entire nation.
Joining this movement only takes a few minutes and makes a tremendous impact. This isn't about political bickering or partisanship. This is about our nation investing in the health of your family by making physical activity more affordable and accessible. This is about taking steps to bring America out of our health crisis and to save billions each year in healthcare costs.
Please visit here if you'd like to send a letter to your elected officials and ask them to support this important bill.
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