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The Moving Crew

Does Bush Put His Budget Where His BMI Is?

Tuesday, March 8, 2005; Page HE03

Fitness advocate John F. Kennedy famously encouraged citizens to ask what they could do for their country. But here at The Moving Crew we dare to ask the tough, unpopular questions. Like: What is government doing for you? More to the point, what is the government doing to help a nation of increasingly inert, ill and overweight citizens? Is the proudly fit President, who so diligently protects his own exercise time, investing in our healthy activity, too?

And so this week we look at the Bush Fitness Budget, the federal public health programs that target physical activity. We've plucked numbers from the administration's proposed spending plan for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1. There are enough small fitness expenses and tax tweaks in the budget to make a libertarian hyperventilate. But let's look at the major ones.


Jogging the jog: In his budget, Bush funds some fitness programs. (Hyungwon Kang / Reuters)

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The White House's tiny fitness flagship, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, is expected to retain its $1.2 million funding in 2006, a spokesman said, adding that the council is "planning some major activities" to mark its 50th anniversary.

The budget also retains money for key fitness initiatives at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: $41.9 million for nutrition, obesity and physical activity programs and $47 million to continue the activity- and eating-oriented Steps to a Healthier U.S.

But the Bush budget proposes major cuts in community-based exercise programs -- $19 million from Department of Education's Physical Education Program (PEP) grants, which would drop to $55 million in 2006. PEP grants, according to the program's Web site, help local educational agencies and community groups "initiate, expand or improve physical education programs . . . to help students make progress toward meeting state standards for physical education."

Bush plans to phase out PEP grants entirely, said C. Todd Jones, an associate deputy secretary at the Education Department. Jones said the grants don't give school districts enough flexibility to help the greatest number of students.

Some critics complain that mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act divert funds from PE classes. "There's a word for that [criticism], and it's called scapegoating," said Jones. "It's a matter of [school systems'] reallocating resources" and using available money to achieve all goals, he said, including PE.

The budget zeroes out the Interior Department's Land and Water Conservation Fund (LCWF) grants, which states use to develop recreation sites such as soccer fields and hiking trails. That's down from $90 million in 2005 and over $140 million in 2002.

"The Interior Department manages one out of every five acres of land in the U.S.," said Dan DuBray, a spokesman for the Department of the Interior. "That land presents a lot of opportunity for recreation . . . and for physical activity. It is a fallacy that if you acquire more lands people will naturally go out and exercise more."

The proposed reductions have drawn fire from a range of interested groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and SGMA International, which represents sporting goods makers. SGMA CEO Tom Cove said, "These programs have had demonstrable success in helping keep people active. To cut these at a time we're trying to encourage people to engage in more physical activity is ridiculous."

Next week we return to our preferred topics -- what you can do for yourself. And what can we do for you? We're live online Thursday at 11 a.m. at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/liveonline/health/movingcrew.

-- John Briley


© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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