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Weprin kicks off physical fitness campaign for kids

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The children performing step aerobics and dance routines onstage at Oakland Gardens’ PS 203 Monday did not need reminding about the benefits of exercise.

But with child obesity rates skyrocketing nationwide, Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) visited the school to announce his Winter Fitness Challenge to the students in his assembly district.

The purpose of the challenge, designed for the winter months when children are most sedentary, “is to get you to start thinking (about) physical fitness,” Weprin told the packed school auditorium.

“It’s okay to eat french fries sometimes, but it can’t be the only thing you eat,” said Weprin, who represents southern Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Glen Oaks and Fresh Meadows.

“The body is like a machine. What you put into it decides how well it runs.”

In a demonstration in the school auditorium, PS 203 students showed what they learned in the school’s low-impact and step aerobics classes. The dance team performed routines from the musical “A Chorus Line.”

The number of physically fit children is on the decline in the United States. A 2003 report issued by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics showed that 15 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 18 were overweight in 2000, an increase from 6 percent in 1980.

The report attributed the rise in obesity to an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.

To encourage children in his district to exercise, Weprin printed up 12,000 brochures with a calendar to be filled out by parents and checked off as the children complete their workouts.

All children who exercise three days a week for 30 minutes at a time during the months of February and March will receive a New York State Assembly Merit Certificate.

Of the certificate winners, several will be chosen at random to receive an even more coveted prize: tickets to a Mets game and permission to go on the field.

The brochures have been distributed to all the elementary and junior high schools in Weprin’s district.

“The key is to try to get your heart moving,” said Weprin, who made the PS 203 children giggle by running in place to demonstrate that kids can get exercise even while watching television.

The brochures suggest pre-workout stretches as well as jumping jacks, jumping rope and even scavenger hunts for cardiovascular health. Diagrams also depict push-ups, sit-ups and “book curls,” or arm curls using books as weights.

Dr. Barry Stein, a clinical exercise physiologist at North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System’s Center for Weight Management, explained that modern conveniences such as fast food, cars and computer games have led people to exercise less than previous generations.

Urging the children to “get off your seat and on your feet,” the doctor quoted the ancient Greek belief in “sound mind, sound body.”

“They didn’t say ‘sound mind, flabby body,’” Stein said.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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