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Former 'American Idol' winner Ruben Studdard speaks to students Tuesday at Capitol Heights Junior High School in Montgomery. Studdard spent the day taking his fitness message to schools in hopes of helping Alabama shed its weighty reputation.
AP photo by Rob Carr
Former "American Idol" winner Ruben Studdard speaks to students Tuesday at Capitol Heights Junior High School in Montgomery. Studdard spent the day taking his fitness message to schools in hopes of helping Alabama shed its weighty reputation.

Singers urge fitness in Alabama
Ruben Studdard, Randy Owen aid campaign to tackle obesity

By Desiree Hunter
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — They're from two very different musical backgrounds, but R&B singer Ruben Studdard and Randy Owen of the country group Alabama are both hoping to strike a chord with Alabamians about the importance of fitness.

Owen and his wife Kelly are featured on the Alabama KidFit DVD which was released Tuesday and encourages parents and their children to adopt healthy lifestyles. Studdard, who's also a spokesman for the statewide Scale Back Alabama weight loss campaign, spent the day taking the fitness message to schools in hopes of helping Alabama shed its weighty reputation.

"I don't want y'all to be like me. I don't want y'all to get to college and stop working out and forget all the things you have to do to be healthy," Studdard told a screaming crowd at Montgomery's Capitol Heights Junior High School.

"I want y'all to continue working out for the rest of your life so you don't have to start all over like Ruben Studdard, trying to get yourself back into shape," he said.

The "American Idol" winner's comments came a few hours after state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks and State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton unveiled the KidFit initiative at a news conference across town. Flanked by children wearing the program's yellow T-shirts emblazoned with pictures of fruits and vegetables, Sparks and Morton expressed dismay at Alabama's persistent ranking near the top of the nation's list for obesity.

"We did a lot of research and one statistic that just seemed to bowl everybody over is that this group of people right here," Morton said, patting the children on the head, "this generation of young persons in Alabama ... could be the first generation that does not outlive their parents in age span. That's frightening. Everybody, from beginning caveman on, always lived a little longer than the generation before them."

Nearly 350,000 DVDs and brochures will be distributed to public school children in grades K-5 and the 30-minute program will also air on television networks in Mobile, Montgomery, Birmingham and Huntsville on Feb. 24 and March 3. The $500,000 program was funded by grants through Alabama Power, which also has safety announcements about electricity on the DVD.

Two years ago the Alabama Obesity Task Force implemented guidelines that changed school lunch menus and what is sold in campus vending machines in efforts to improve nutrition. Last summer the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington gave Alabama a "B+" for its nutrition policy, citing tough restrictions on junk food and carbonated drinks.

"The nation has a patchwork of policies that are still evolving to address soda and junk food in schools," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Washington group.

"I think there have been some good initial steps taken, but overall we're doing very badly in that two-thirds of states have weak policies dealing with food sold out of vending machines, in school stores and a la carte," she said. "Alabama has one of the better policies around the country."

Wares Ferry Road Elementary School 5th grader Madison McDonald participated in the news conference Tuesday with four other schoolmates. She said her family's trips to popular fast-food restaurants are rare despite her last name and had a statement prepared for anyone who would want to "eat out every night."

"I would tell them that it would make them sick and thick and it wouldn't be good for you," she said.

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On the Net:

Alabama KidFit: www.kidfitamerica.com

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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