Friday 24 January 2014
Aston Villa players Leandro Bacuna and Yacouba Sylla have shown support for Aston Villa's 'Villa Vitality' scheme by visiting a school in Birmingham to teach kids about healthy living, amid reports of an obesity crisis among young people in the city.
Villa Vitality, run by Aston Villa Football Club in partnership with Birmingham Public Health, is one of the city’s biggest childhood obesity prevention initiatives and has become a flagship health initiative since its launch in November 2005. It targets Year Five children living in areas with high levels of obesity in the region and teaches about nutrition and healthy lifestyles, in hope of motivating youngsters into long-lasting change.
"Villa Vitality is great because it's educational but also fun."
Bacuna and Sylla’s visit to Highfield Junior and Infant School in Saltley came after figures from the Health and Social Care information classed almost a quarter of Birmingham children as obese, with one 10-year-old school girl who weighed 22 stone noted as an extreme case. There are further concerns on a national scale, with suggestions that over 50% of the UK population could be obese by 2050 at a cost of £50bn per year.
Villa Vitality recognises its role in the obesity epidemic and hopes to use the reach of Aston Villa Football Club to tackle the problem among young people in the Birmingham region. The programme runs over a six-week period and reaches around 3,000 children who take part in healthy eating and physical activity sessions which are given by Villa coaches.
Villa midfielders Bacuna and Sylla are the latest players to show their support for the initiative. The duo, who have made 39 Barclays Premier League appearances between them, took part in games with the children, talked about their own diet and routines as athletes and hosted a football session in the gym.
"It's very important to eat healthily and take part in exercise - not just for children but for adults too,” Bacuna told the Aston Villa website. "Saying that, it's vital that you start when you're young. If you are healthy you can do more things.
“Villa Vitality is great because it's educational but also fun. Sport is really important. It doesn't matter what sport you take part in. It doesn't matter how good you are either. Just get involved. It will be good for your body, your mind and will benefit you in future."
"I think the power of the football club is phenomenal”
Doctor Adrian Phillips
Doctor Adrian Phillips, Director of Public Health Birmingham, believes the added attraction of football teams like Aston Villa can play a big role in encouraging children to be healthy.
"I think the power of the football club is phenomenal,” he said. "Every community values its football clubs and Villa are undoubtedly a big brand.
"Footballers are excellent role models for children too. Look at the appearance of Leandro and Yacouba at this event. It was tremendous. They were screaming to get close to them. This shows the power of football. This is big in changing mindsets.
“In Birmingham, we know one in four kids are clinically obese - not just overweight. That is a real problem. Tackling the issue is about eating healthily and being physically active. Leandro and Yacouba were preaching this message. We heard about how much they train and what they eat. The message there was that you can be healthy and have lots of fun."