Jim Baugh crusades for a cause that could curb the current health care crisis and reverse the “inactivity pandemic” plaguing the nation's children.
The former president of Wilson Sporting Goods retired a decade ago yet he continues to clock in 12-hour days and travel the country continually to meet with backers of his charity. A former athlete, he has a passion for promoting physical activity among America's youth.
“Sports have been a big part of my life,” says Jim Baugh, founder of PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) America, a national non-profit working to reverse the “inactivity pandemic.” “I've always known the importance of physical education.”
Baugh says physical education in U.S. schools has deteriorated for years. He credits the sit-and-learn culture of today to 2001's No Child Left Behind Act, which prioritized academics over physical activity.
“It's backfired,” he says. “Let's be real.”
The statistics speak for themselves. Recess has recessed in many schools because of lack of funds. Of the institutions that have physical education, their budgets amount to $764 annually. As a result, students are at their desks for the majority of the school day, moving an average of 23 minutes during that time.
“Educators don't like me, but I tell the truth, and the numbers back it up,” Baugh says.
The PHIT America website is full of facts about how daily exercise improves a child's ability to learn, and links to more than 10 studies that offer proof. And it displays a bar chart that reveals the U.S. spends more money on education than any other developed country while falling behind in math and science rankings worldwide. The man who grew up playing baseball, basketball and football, and rises at 5 a.m. to get in a 10-mile bicycle ride founded the organization to fight back.
“We've got to move,” Baugh, 65, says. “Our bodies were made to.”
He recently returned from Canada where he sealed a deal to film a documentary discussing the inactivity pandemic. The 30-minute video will include interviews with parents and teachers about the benefits of exercise on academic performance.
“America needs to hear this story,” Baugh says. “We are holding the key to the health care crisis and the education crisis in America.”
Two years after he was inducted into the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame and one year before receiving the same honor in the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame, he founded PHIT America out of his Jupiter home with dual missions of advocacy and education. Since 2013, the group has garnered more than 100 corporate sponsors and given more than 150 Go! Grants to schools eager to improve their physical education programs.
“We got more than 50,000 kids active and off the couch,” Baugh says. “What we're doing is really working.”
He has created a movement of volunteers both within and outside the sports community who realize more Americans die from physical inactivity than tobacco use.
“Sitting is the new smoking,” Baugh says, noting 5.3 million deaths occur each year from sitting versus 5 million from smoking. “This is what wakes me up in the middle of the night. This is what gets me so driven. This is about the future of our country.”