Video: Doctor creates program to combat childhood obesity

By Rehema Ellis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/9/2007 7:54:12 PM ET 2007-05-09T23:54:12

Studies show one in six young people between ages 6 and 19 are overweight and at risk of developing severe health problems.  Now, one man is making a difference, going to where kids spend most of their time — schools — hoping to get them back on the right track. 

Mark Alexander is getting kids up, doing long jumps, running. But Alexander isn't a coach, he's an epidemiologist concerned about studies showing a third of American children are overweight — 17 percent of them obese.

And the problem is even worse in minority communities where there are fewer resources.

"These children are at great risk for heart disease at a very early age and other very serious health problems if we don't do something immediately to remedy it," Alexander says.

So, five years ago, Alexander began a track program at an Oakland, Calif., elementary school that didn't have a track.

The results are astounding. Not only are kids getting in shape, and eating healthier, they're also getting better grades.

"Dr. Alexander has been a life saver for this school," says Hoover Elementary School's Phyllis Hall. "We find that knowing they have something to look forward to keeps them on track as far as keeping their academic day in line."

But this isn't just a story about being on a track team and improving the health of kids in tough neighborhoods. It's also about teaching them life skills to prepare them for the future. Even on weekends, Alexander and his army of volunteers are teaching his kids healthy eating habits and encouraging their dreams.

Parents say it's keeping their kids off the streets.

"Regardless of what is going on in their home or in school or just around them, he brings them in and makes them feel like they are wanted," Vonncile Harris, a mother of three, says.

"I wanted to get in there and make some things happen in my community that would change the lives of these children," Alexander says.

His program is so successful, it's now spread to 30 schools in the Bay Area. He's one scientist who worried about a national health problem, and found a formula to help save children's lives.

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