In an effort to emphasize the benefits of even a half-minute of exercise, the state's first lady, Michelle Paige Paterson, Tuesday asked a classroom of seventh-graders in Huntington to do jumping jacks.
The students rose from their desks in their science lab at J. Taylor Finley Middle School and jumped up and down as Paterson counted the time. She was in Huntington to announce the launch of a six-week competition encouraging students to eat healthy and exercise.
"Statistics say that your generation of kids is the first generation of kids who may not live as long as their parents," Paterson said. "I found that very startling when I heard that statistic . . . and the reason, they say, has to do with childhood obesity."
Paterson, who has made childhood obesity her focus as first lady, noted that the prevalence of childhood obesity has risen. She said that one in three kids in New York State is either overweight or obese, which puts them at higher risk for other conditions such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and asthma.
The competition, called "Healthy Steps to Albany: First Lady's Challenge," kicks off March 1. Each classroom works as a team and student teams earn "steps" for the exercise they do and the healthy foods they eat. The team that logs the most steps on a healthy step Web site wins the challenge.
The contest is open to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade public school classrooms in New York City and in Rockland, Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau counties. Winning classrooms will receive a trip to a local farm and a healthy lunch with Michelle Paterson and Gov. David A. Paterson.
Awards will go to the top class in each grade from New York City and from the surrounding areas, for a total of six winning teams.
Jessica Tucker, 12, a Finley student who plays soccer, lacrosse and tennis, said staying fit and eating right is important and she hopes to take part in the fitness challenge.
"I think people should stay active so they don't get obese and they live longer," she said.