Fitness guru Richard Simmons urged Congress Thursday morning to keep and expand physical education in American public schools.
"What have we done to the kids of the United States of America?" Simmons told Congress Thursday, speaking passionately and shaking his hands vigorously. "This is wrong. ...I just may run for office to help really get this through."
Simmons’ testimony comes as budget cuts are forcing public schools to scale back or eliminate physical education programs. Simmons and his supporters held a rally after the testimony.
Earlier in the morning, Simmons, 60, appeared on FOX & Friends to describe his efforts.
“I think if kids move, they learn better because the blood is flowing and they're happier," Simmons said on FOX & Friends. “Our kids need to exercise everyday in every school.”
Sixteen percent of American children are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is believed that at least part of the obesity epidemic stems from the fact that children are eating more fast food and spending more time indoors than in decades past. Add in the fact that public schools are cutting gym classes and you have a big fat problem, Simmons believes.
“In many, many schools . . . there is no PE or it’s once a week or twice a week …,” Simmons said. “Our children are obese, our children are sick. They have diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure. They are not social-skilled, they don’t go out and play.”
Simmons speaks from experience. When he graduated high school in New Orleans, he weighed 268 pounds. He adopted a lifestyle of moderate eating and exercise before moving to Los Angeles in 1973, where he became a Hollywood success story.
He had a four-year stint on “General Hospital,” followed by his own nationally syndicated series, “The Richard Simmons Show,” which won several Emmy awards. He has 50 fitness videos, which have sold more than 20 million copies and he is the author nine books and three cookbooks.
“The simple way to look at pediatric obesity is as an equation,” said Dr. Evan Nadler, director of Minimally Invasive Surgery at New York University School of Medicine. “If you eat more calories than you burn, you are going to gain weight. It’s simple. Certainly burning the calories is helpful, but attention needs to be paid to the calories inside the equation.”
Nadler, who co-authored an NYU study on laparoscopic gastric banding in obese teens, told FOXNews.com that although children do need constant physical activity, it is not enough.
The real problem, he said, lies in obtaining unhealthy food.
“There are vending machines in schools with sugar-sweet beverages and candy bars and chips, all of which contribute to the problem,” he said. “The analogy I use: It’s been made illegal for Joe Camel to market cigarettes to children, however, we let McDonald’s and Burger King and Wendy’s use a clown, a dressed-up king and a little girl to clearly market their unhealthy food to children.
“If we want to make a significant dent in the pediatric obesity epidemic, drastic steps such as limiting the ability to marketing to children need to be cut. Think about the Trix rabbit,”Nadler added.