Hall of Famer Jerry Rice helps NFL fight obesity

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jerry Rice still runs “The Hill.”

He wouldn’t mind having, oh, a million or so youngsters accompanying him on his grueling workouts.

The greatest receiver in football history, Rice is helping the NFL and Xbox 360 fight childhood obesity through a program that hopes to encourage 1 million youngsters to become more active.

The “60 Million Minutes Challenge” asks kids of all ages to pledge to be active for 60 minutes every day. It’s part of the NFL’s PLAY 60 program, a new initiative launched Monday.

“To reverse the trend of childhood obesity, we need to continue to educate kids and parents about the importance of 60 minutes of daily activity,” Rice said. “That’s what’s great about Kinect for Xbox 360. It gets kids off the couch and gets their whole body in the game.

“Being a healthy kid can lead to being a healthy adult.”

The folks at the NFL and Microsoft, which makes the video system central to this initiative, are offering incentives such as gift cards for merchandise and personalized autographs on Facebook to youngsters who join up.

Because the entire body is the controller through Kinect for Xbox 360, the amount of exercise a player gets easily dwarfs the more conventional approaches for video games in which the fingers and the wrists get the biggest workouts.

“This is something I am very enthusiastic about,” said Dr. Bill Crounse, a family physician and now Microsoft’s senior director or worldwide health. “Since I started as a physician in the early 1980s, we have seen about a tripling of the number of kids overweight or of childhood obesity … and it has to do with inactivity. I reflect back to when I was growing up and kids were always running around. This is a way of getting kids and their families more motivated to get active.”

More than 1,500 PLAY 60 youth events have been organized and the league has built more than 100 youth fitness zones. But that touches only a small segment of the population compared to what this program can attract.

Rice isn’t really asking kids to run “The Hill” with him, of course. Or is he?

“That would be a cool game for Kinect,” Rice joked. “Run “The Hill” with Jerry Rice!”

He seriously emphasizes its importance in his development as one of the best players the NFL has seen.

“It’s a 2.5-mile uphill run,” the 49-year-old Rice said. “The training I used to do in the offseason helped make me the great player that I was. I always wanted to be in the best possible shape so that I had that extra edge when it was late in the game and other players were getting tired.”

Crounse recognizes that simply getting youngsters involved in the program won’t guarantee they will lose weight. They need to do more, including having healthy diets.

Even an hour’s more activity per day, though, is an important gain.

“As a physician, we know being overweight and obesity is associated with a lot of chronic diseases that are major causes of death in the United States,” Crounse said. “We also know you don’t have to be doing anything real fancy to get more activity; even walking or dancing will burn those calories. The point being if each of us would do a little more of it a day, it could translate to a weight loss of a pound a week.

“So it’s not just getting kids enrolled in this program that will make kids lose that weight, but it can certainly help. And there’s a spirit of competitiveness with Xbox 360. People are very goal-oriented and this is a mechanism for the kids to do that, be competitive and active and healthier.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.