The Catholic University of America

March 31, 2006

Executive Director of U.S. Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Addresses CUA Students

Speaker Promotes President's Challenge to Sociology of Sports Class

Melissa Johnson

Melissa Johnson, executive director of President Bush's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, addressed a CUA Sociology of Sports class about the growing epidemic of obesity and poor health in the United States. Johnson's council serves as an advisory committee to the president and the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Sixty-five percent of Americans are overweight or obese," said Johnson during her PowerPoint presentation to the class of 34 students. "Sedentary lifestyles are now costing our country $117 billion each year, and you might be part of the first generation of Americans who won't live as long as their parents."

The purpose of Johnson's visit was to urge students to log on to her council's Web site ( and to take the "President's Challenge," which calls adults to 30 minutes of physical activity per day, five days a week, while monitoring their progress online. Heads of state from other countries recently have adopted similar programs to encourage better health among their fellow citizens.

As Johnson flashed through slides depicting statistics and provocative images - such as a man driving his SUV while "walking" his dog - she highlighted various factors contributing to the nation's growing obesity problem. Among them are larger portion sizes in restaurants, the growing need to spend time behind a computer and "suburban sprawl," which has forced people to spend more time behind the wheel.

During her address, Johnson listed notable Americans who have advocated active lifestyles. President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to follow his lead by taking 50-mile hikes. Former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson wore a pedometer (a machine that tracks a person's burned calories by tallying the number of steps taken throughout the day) and urged Americans to do the same. Johnson also noted that President Bush is officially the healthiest president in U.S. history, with a body-fat percentage, blood pressure and heart rate in the top 1 percent of Americans in his age bracket.

"Melissa's presentation was very informative, and I'd like to become involved in her program so I can inspire others to become physically active," says Christina Bean, from Nyack, N.Y. - a member of both the class and the CUA women's lacrosse team. "As a student-athlete, I'd also like to maintain my level of fitness for years to come."

To view Johnson's full presentation, visit

Johnson's appearance was part of a semester-long guest-lecture series component of the Sociology of Sports course to prepare students for their term paper, which will outline what they believe should be done to raise the national level of physical fitness. Other guest speakers have included Washington Post journalists Mark Gail and Hamil Harris.

Next week, the class will feature a lecture by Gold-Medal-winning Paralympian and Paralympic Games organizer Ann Cody.

"I truly believe that academic teachers should mix classroom instruction with as much field exposure as possible," says Leszek Sibilski, the adjunct professor who teaches the course. Sibilski is so keen on physical fitness he requires his students to walk the four flights of stairs to his classroom, bypassing the elevator. "I want my students to understand the balance between body, mind and spirit. Thomas Aquinas himself viewed exercise as medicine for the soul and a means to refresh the mind."

To learn more about fitness opportunities for members of the Catholic University community, refer to the three-part online "CUA on the Move" series published in Inside CUA, beginning with its November 2005 edition (

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Media contact(s):
· Chris Harrison, CUA Office of Public Affairs, 202-319-5600,
· Katie Lee, CUA Office of Public Affairs, 202-319-5600,