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“I’m a lot happier these last four weeks of going to the gym,” said Annan Morelli, doing sit-ups during a teen fitness course at the Cambrai gym. Morelli was the first teen to tackle the class.

“I’m a lot happier these last four weeks of going to the gym,” said Annan Morelli, doing sit-ups during a teen fitness course at the Cambrai gym. Morelli was the first teen to tackle the class. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

“I’m a lot happier these last four weeks of going to the gym,” said Annan Morelli, doing sit-ups during a teen fitness course at the Cambrai gym. Morelli was the first teen to tackle the class.

“I’m a lot happier these last four weeks of going to the gym,” said Annan Morelli, doing sit-ups during a teen fitness course at the Cambrai gym. Morelli was the first teen to tackle the class. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Instructor Brian Morgan times David Loffert, 16, doing sit-ups while Michael Hendrix, 14, holds Loffert's feet down during a teen fitness class in Darmstadt, Germany.

Instructor Brian Morgan times David Loffert, 16, doing sit-ups while Michael Hendrix, 14, holds Loffert's feet down during a teen fitness class in Darmstadt, Germany. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Instructor Eddie Bonilla watches Annan Morelli exercise on a Nautilus machine.

Instructor Eddie Bonilla watches Annan Morelli exercise on a Nautilus machine. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Instructor Brian Morgan, left, does exercises with, from front to back, Annan Morelli, David Loffert, Michael Hendrix and David Patterson, during a teen fitness course in Darmstadt, Germany.

Instructor Brian Morgan, left, does exercises with, from front to back, Annan Morelli, David Loffert, Michael Hendrix and David Patterson, during a teen fitness course in Darmstadt, Germany. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

DARMSTADT, Germany — Unfit children and the stagnant lifestyles that cause them to pack on pounds are the subjects of some new initiatives in American military communities.

Both military and school officials recognize that weight gain is a problem among young people, so they’re fighting back with exercise programs specifically designed to prevent childhood obesity.

Darmstadt is one of the communities taking on the battle of the bulge. The 233rd Base Support Battalion is offering free after-school classes at the gym to teach teens how to use exercise equipment properly.

“I’m a lot happier these last four weeks of going to the gym. I blow off some steam and hang out and meet people. It’s a lot of fun and I feel better,” said Annan Morelli, 13, who was the first and only pupil to take on the new Cambrai-Fritsch Casern teen fitness program when it started in January.

Three other teen-fitness regulars now join Annan in the Tuesday and Thursday hourlong gym sessions, along with three students who started Tuesday to train for the upcoming soccer season.

By the end of the eight-week course, the teens, ranging from 13 to 16, will be able to use the gym on their own — along with any others who take the class. Previous military regulations said anyone younger than 17 could use the gym only with constant adult supervision.

The World Health Organization calls childhood obesity a worldwide epidemic. Other organizations, such as the American Obesity Association, place America at the top of this food chain — owing to its suburban sprawl, videogames and super-size fast food portions.

“Lately, the strongest part of the body on a lot of kids is their thumbs,” said Brian Morgan, 38, the 233rd BSB’s fitness coordinator who helped develop the Youth Services teen fitness program. “They come home and then just sit behind a computer or TV. It’s one of the reasons why obesity in America is at its highest level.”

Morgan has personal experience with childhood health problems. Growing up in North Carolina, he was diagnosed with asthma and had many allergies. He said that, at 12, he realized the power of living a healthy lifestyle and has since beaten his problems through exercise.

“These children can make a commitment right now and change their life. You can tackle any goal if you look good and feel good,” Morgan said.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said daily enrollment in physical education classes dropped from 42 percent to 13 percent among high school students between 1991 and 2001.

The CDC recommends more and better physical education classes in school to improve children’s health.

Military schools are taking the suggestion to heart. Department of Defense Dependents Schools worldwide are adding high school PE classes to their freshman curriculum, said Karen Seadore, the DODDS-Europe health, physical education and athletic coordinator.

The class of 2008 now has an extra semester — or half-year — of PE instruction, making it 1½ years of PE throughout high school.


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