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Consumer Reports

Federal campaign targets obese 'tweens' | (UPI) -- A federal program designed to root preteens and 13-year-olds from their nests in front of television and video game nests is headed for Los Angeles next month as it makes its way across the country.

The VERB program visited Miami; Green Bay, Wis.; and Houston in the last month with programs like Nickelodeon's Wild and Crazy Kids Activity Zone and promotional stunts.

The program run by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is formally named VERB. The "VERB" is not an acronym, it's the part of speech and means doing something -- anything.

The program is in its third year and despite a decreasing budget, its leaders say its campaign against obesity and other risky behavior among 9-13 year olds -- known as tweens -- is reaching children.

"We're pleased with the reach, but it needs to be long term," said Jim Marks, who heads the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

"This is the first time we've had a budget to be able to pay for media. We're pleased with how it's going. We want them to be more active and see it as fun. You can't sell it as work, as deprivation," Marks said.

Mike Greenwell, communications director for the chronic disease center, said an evaluation will be made as soon as this month, but so far the numbers look good as the television promotional campaign concentrates on the Nickelodeon, Cartoon and Disney channels.

"While we wanted to reach about 40 percent of the kids, it's about 60 percent," he said.

The hard times following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the uncertainty about war in Iraq are taking their toll, however.

The budget for the program started out at $125 million two years ago, dropped to $68 million last year and is going down to $51 million in the current budget.

"That's a little disappointing," Marks said. "They're saying show us what you've got. We know from an advertising campaign perspective it's going great. The proof will be in the pudding, and that will be whether the kids are being more active."

He said that's something they don't know yet.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson says it is crucial to stop tween lifestyles from being devoid of positive physical and social activity.

Thompson said increasing levels of overweight tweens and related diseases such as Type II Diabetes require action to change habits and improve health.

"The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and we are seeing serious related complications, including dramatic increases in Type II diabetes in adolescents," Thompson said. "The campaign will send the message to children that are being active is an important part of being healthy."

The final event of the tour is scheduled for April 12 in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

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