Pelicans encourage kids to be active

Pelicans star Anthony Davis gave up several layups Wednesday afternoon with little regret.

Not to worry. Davis isn’t getting soft in the paint.

He and teammate Austin Rivers hosted a Pelicans Junior Training Camp for about 150 students of mostly pint-sized stature at Stuart Hall School for Boys, encouraging them to pick up a basketball, throw a football, run around the block with friends — just be active.

“Kids are out here playing with us, dunking on us, crossing us over,” Davis said. “We’re having a great time.”

Kids participated in basketball drills, from plyometrics for quick feet and passing to vertical jumps and running around cones and (trying to) shoot over Davis and Rivers, who gladly blocked and altered shots.

It’s part of a movement to end childhood obesity in Louisiana, which nationally ranks in the bottom fifth. As a result, Louisiana has overtaken Mississippi with the nation’s highest adult obesity rate at 34.7 percent, according to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2013.

The quiet epidemic has transformed American society to its chubbiest ever, leading to increased health issues and medical expenses for adults. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A lack of physical fitness is blamed for the more than 12 million overweight adolescents, from decreased playground activity in schools — especially in low-performing schools where core curriculums have taken precedent — to the super popularity of playing video games on the sofa.

“It’s been very difficult for families. Because of our lifestyles, everything is on the go,” said Michael Heim, youth fitness manager and Elmwood Fitness Center, a service of Ochsner Health Systems. “Fast food places are hoping you buy their food on impulse because you just don’t have the time anymore.”

Not that combo meals, sweets and Halo 4 should be off limits to kids, said Rivers, now in his second season with the Pelicans.

“That’s what I told them today. I don’t want to tell them don’t play video games because it’s unrealistic,” said Rivers, the son of Doc Rivers, a former NBA star who is now coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.

“I love video games myself. But you have to have a balance of when to and when not to. Video games are fun, but set a time for yourself. Play an hour, then in the next hour, I’m going to go outside, play football, have a swimming contest or play basketball with my friends.”

Rivers said when he was a kid, he and friends biked several miles just to get ice cream. Then their outdoor adventures continued with swimming and maybe a game of manhunt.

“I have no problem with kids eating junk food, but there’s ways of doing it,” he said.

Heim has helped create several programs to curb childhood obesity in New Orleans, including “I Can Do It,” a 12-week course, which includes educating families on nutrition (most children pick up extra calories from soft drinks, energy drinks and increasingly, coffee), and grocery store tours to teaching families how to prepare meals, especially in advance of their busy weekdays.

Wednesday’s camp was a partnership of the Pelicans, Ochsner Health System, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana and the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living.

The goal is to host two junior training camps per week for children between the ages of seven and 12 and change physical fitness habits, one dunk at a time.

“I got crossed twice today, and a kid tried to dunk on me and A.D. — some of these kids are athletic,” Rivers said.

Davis agreed.

“I’m kind of hurt right now,” he said, smiling. “I’m going to take that personal next time.”