NOW with Bill Moyers

Motivating Youth to Get More Exercise
This lesson is designed for Health classrooms, grades 9-12

  • Lesson Objectives
  • Relevant National Standards
  • Estimated Time
  • Materials Needed
  • Backgrounder for Teachers
  • Assumed Student Prior Knowledge
  • Teaching Strategy
  • Assessment Recommendations
  • Extension Ideas
  • Related Resources
  • About the Author

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will:
  1. Infer why the number of overweight youth in the United States is increasing.
  2. Research and discuss the long-term health risks of being overweight.
  3. Conclude why physical activity levels drop off from childhood to adolescence.
  4. Evaluate a government media campaign targeting sedentary youth.
  5. Develop strategies and an action plan for how teenagers can be more physically active.
  6. Work collaboratively with a partner and in small groups.

Related National Health Standards

Health Standards

Standard 1: Students will comprehend concepts related to health promotion and disease prevention. Performance indicators for this standard center around identifying what is good health, recognizing health problems, and ways in which lifestyle, the environment, and public policies can promote health.
Standard 2: Students will demonstrate the ability to access valid health information and health-promoting products and services. Performance indicators focus on identification of valid health information, products, and services including advertisements, health insurance and treatment options, and food labels.
Standard 3: Students will demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and reduce health risks. Performance indicators include identifying responsible and harmful behaviors, developing health-enhancing strategies, and managing stress.
Standard 4: Students will analyze the influence of culture, media, technology, and other factors on health. Performance indicators are related to describing and analyzing how one's cultural background, messages from the media, technology, and one's friends influence health.
Standard 5: Students will demonstrate the ability to use interpersonal communication skills to enhance health. Performance indicators relate to interpersonal communication, refusal and negotiation skills, and conflict resolution.
Standard 6: Students will demonstrate the ability to use goal-setting and decision-making skills to enhance health. Performance indicators focus on setting reasonable and attainable goals and developing positive decision-making skills.
Standard 7: Students will demonstrate the ability to advocate for personal, family, and community health. Performance indicators relate to identifying community resources, accurately communicating health information and ideas, and working cooperatively to promote health.
Standards Resource: ERIC Identifier: ED387483, Publication Date: 1995-10-00, Author: Summerfield, Liane M., Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education, Washington D.C

Physical Education Standards

A physically educated person:

Standard 3: Exhibits a physically active lifestyle.
Standard 4: Achieves and maintains a health-enhancing level of physical fitness.

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson

Two-four 45-minute class periods. This lesson plan could require more class time depending upon the culminating activity developed by students.

Materials Needed

Backgrounder for Teachers

The number of overweight youth in the United States is rising dramatically. According to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), U.S. children and adolescents considered to be overweight increased by 100% between 1980 and 1994. The National Center for Health Statistics reported in 2001 that 13% of children age 6-11 and 14% of adolescents age 12-19 are estimated to be overweight. Overweight youth are more likely to be overweight as adults, and are at increased risk for a number of serious ailments, including diabetes, heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure and some types of cancer. For more information read the CDC article, "Prevalence of Overweight Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1999-2000".

Body mass index (BMI), expressed as weight/height2 (or kg/m2), is commonly used to classify "overweight" and "obesity" among adults, and is also recommended to identify children who are "overweight" or "at risk of becoming overweight." BMI is used differently to define overweight in children and adolescents than it is in adults. For details, see the CDC article, "Body Mass Index-for-Age (Children): BMI is Used Differently with Children Than it is With Adults".

Due to potential negative connotations associated with the term "obesity," the CDC recommends the terms "at risk of overweight" and "overweight" to refer to children and adolescents whose excess body weight could pose medical risks. A BMI-for-age > 95th percentile defines "overweight" and one between the 85th and 95th percentile defines "at risk of overweight." BMI-for-age is age and gender specific.

For the purposes of this lesson, issues of physical appearance and self-image will not be addressed in the discussions of overweight youth. Rather, the lesson focuses on the increase in numbers of overweight teens, associated health risks, and ways to promote increased physical activity.

The October 25, 2002 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast features an in-depth report on a government media campaign called 'VERB', designed to motivate children to increase their levels of exercise. (Note: A free transcript of this segment is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS ( Be sure to also review the VERB press release and fact sheet.

In addition to the transcript, the NOW Web site provides statistics comparing the numbers of overweight youth internationally.

For more on various issues related to this topic, please see the Related Resources listing at the end of this lesson plan.

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

It is assumed that students know that physical activity is essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Teaching Strategy

Part 1: Overweight Youth, Health Risks, and Physical Activity

1. Because the subject of weight is sensitive for some, it is recommended that you begin this lesson by reinforcing classroom standards of respect for others. Explain to students that the lesson will focus on the numbers of overweight youth in the United States, the health risks such individuals face, and possible solutions to this nationwide problem. Also, take a few minutes to define for students what "overweight" means. (The Backgrounder for Teachers section of this lesson plan provides guidance on these definitions for adults and children.)

2. Have students work individually to complete the handout, "Examine the Data: Overweight Youth in the United States." (Students will examine data on overweight children, calculate the increase in the U.S. over the past 20 years, and make inferences to explain the increase. They will then write about what they see as the primary cause for the increase in overweight youth.)

3. Ask students to share and discuss what they determined to be the primary cause for the increase in overweight youth, using what they wrote on the handout as a reference. Compile a class list of factors the students shared and have them point out which factors are most commonly cited by students.

4. Explain to students that the medical field considers the rise in the number of overweight people of all ages to be an epidemic due to the tremendous impact on an overweight individual's health and the health care system. Have students list specific health risks identified in the articles:

Students should also indicate one new thing they learned from the articles, record something they already knew before reading the articles, and write one question about something the articles made them wonder about.

5. Now that students have discussed the increasing problem of overweight youth and associated health risks, explain that they will now focus on one key strategy for addressing the problem of being overweight: physical activity. Have students work in pairs to complete the handout, "Physical Activity." (Students will ponder the questions of why physical activity levels decrease with adolescence, what would motivate teens to be more active, and what types of activities would teens find most appealing.) Bring the class back together to report and discuss their thinking. List their ideas for each handout question on a flip chart, overhead or whiteboard.

Part II: Strategies Designed to Increase Physical Activity in Teens

1. Ask students to identify some marketing campaigns that are targeted towards youth. (Possible answers might include specific campaigns tied to fast food chains, fashion, and other consumer goods. You may also wish to stimulate discussion by showing examples of advertisements designed for teens from various media.) Invite students to share as many details from each marketing campaign as they can remember. Why do students remember what they do? Do students in your class feel these media campaigns influence teen behavior? Why or why not? Can students provide examples of when they were influenced to purchase something or go somewhere due to a marketing campaign? During the discussion, incorporate statistics on >marketing to youth. (The Kaiser Family Foundation has a useful fact sheet on Kids and Media.)

2. Explain to students that the success of some marketing campaigns targeted to today's youth influenced the United States government to address the problem of inactivity and weight management through a media campaign called, 'VERB'. Show the approximately 15-minute NOW WITH BILL MOYERS report on VERB. (Alternatively, students could read the transcript of this segment.) As students watch (or read) the segment, have them complete the questions on the handout, "VERB: It's What You Do."

3. Follow up the video with a class discussion on the questions from the worksheet. Spend some time on the last question that focuses on whether or not students believe the media campaign will motivate kids to exercise more often. Students should defend their opinions with information from the video and the Examine the Data and Physical Activity handouts completed earlier in this lesson. If some students are critical of VERB, have them suggest ways to make the campaign more appealing to its target age group: kids ages 9-13.

4. Broaden the VERB discussion to include general factors that influence one's health, including one's cultural background, messages from the media, technology, one's friends, busy schedules, etc. Then challenge students to brainstorm a variety of strategies that would successfully motivate their age group to exercise more. As appropriate, refer back to student ideas shared in Part I, step 5 during the brainstorming process.

Part III: Culminating Activity

1. Ask students to review their brainstormed list of strategies designed to motivate teens their age to exercise more. Have students work as a class or in smaller groups to choose one strategy to actually implement at your school or in your community. Possible ideas:

  • Start an activity program for students before school, after school or during lunch.
  • Develop a media campaign for the school district promoting exercise.
  • Partner with a middle or elementary school in your district to mentor/encourage younger students to increase their physical activity. Such a partnership could potentially include the organization of a Jump Rope for Heart event at your local elementary school or Hoops for Heart event at your local middle school.
  • Create and distribute activity calendars that provide guided daily activities (i.e. riding bikes, playing basketball, etc.) and distribute them to other students.
  • Assess the levels of physical activity for students in your class and create customized action plans that will commit students to an activity program for one month.
  • Create a physical activity club that meets several times a week and engages in all types of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Assessment Recommendations

  1. Assess the clarity and completeness of student work on the handouts from Parts I and II.
  2. Grade the final activity on the quality of each student's participation in implementing the class or group plan.

Extension Ideas

1. Have students log and analyze the amount of physical activity they engage in for one week.

2. Invite a physician to be a guest speaker to discuss how overweight youth become unhealthy and ill adults.

3. Evaluate additional marketing campaigns and identify successful and less successful strategies for reaching the campaign's target audience.

4. Ask students to examine the VERB Web site ( and evaluate its effectiveness.

5. Have students do additional research on heart disease and diabetes, as well as how being overweight is a risk factor for these diseases.

6. Compare the United States to other countries statistics on weight and draw conclusions about the data. Use the international comparisons on the NOW Web site as a starting point.

Related Resources

Below are some sites that provide useful information related to this lesson's topic. These resources are provided in addition to the helpful Web sites listed in the Teaching Strategy section of this lesson plan. The NOW site has additional Web site recommendations that may be of interest.

American Diabetes Association
The site for the American Diabetes Association provides information related to Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes, as well as other related areas.

American Heart Association
The American Heart Association site provides information and education pertaining to heart disease and strokes.

Cardiovascular Health Promotion for Children
The John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center provides a variety of articles and sources related to children's cardiovascular health. Be sure to see the important information in the slide show titled, "Will Today's Child Be Tomorrow's Cardiac Patient?"

Guidelines to Promote Lifelong Physical Activity Among Young People
These guidelines, provided by the Center for Disease Control, identify strategies most likely to be effective in helping young people adopt and maintain a physically active lifestyle.

Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the United States Surgeon General
The surgeon general's report provides extensive research on physical activity and health, including statistical data related to the inactivity of adolescent youth in the United States.

Obese Children
Betty Ann Bowser from THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER reports on the rise in childhood obesity. She interviews an overweight boy and his struggles to lose weight and a pediatrician from Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.

Obesity Statistics
This is a statistical report from CNN Health In-depth on obesity in the United States.

Promoting Better Health for Young People Through Physical Activity and Sports
This report to the President from the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education focuses on ten strategies to improve overall health and reduce obesity through participation in physical activity.

VERB: It's What You Do This Web site is a component of the media campaign featured in Part II of this lesson plan.

About the Author
Donna DeTommaso-Kleinert is an elementary physical education teacher at Hatfield Elementary School in the North Penn School District Lansdale, Pa. She has participated on the writing team for the Pennsylvania State Health and Physical Education Standards and coordinates and presents the new teacher induction program. She has been in the teaching profession for 20 years with experiences in elementary and secondary health and physical education and also as a learning coordinator of all the special area curricula. Presently she is enrolled in a curriculum and instruction program in the Department of Kinesology at Temple University. Her proudest accomplishments have come from motherhood and marriage.