There’s no question that childhood obesity is a growing problem in the U.S.: According to a 2003 study for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every state in the U.S. has childhood obesity rates exceeding 15%, compared with four states just 10 years ago. What’s worse, 31 states have obesity rates of 20%-24%.
To help schools help students keep fit, S&S Worldwide, a multititle mailer of eductional and recreational supplies, is distributing Exemplary Physical Education Curriculum (EPEC) materials, developed for the standards-based nationwide curriculum designed to enable children to be active for life. The EPEC kits include instruction for teachers, playground equipment, and instructional posters for children in grades K-5 and secondary schools.
While Colchester, CT-based S&S didn’t develop the content for the EPEC product internally, it partnered last summer with an organization that did. The Michigan Fitness Foundation created the framework for the EPEC program after Michigan was identified in the early 1990s as having one of the highest rates of preventable chronic disease in the country. S&S is now the exclusive distributor of the EPEC materials.
S&S Worldwide began selling the products in its Discount Sports & P.E. Supplies catalog in December 2004. EPEC kits range from $67.88 for a set of 24 posters to $598.88 for the complete set of four educational modules.
According to the catalog copy, EPEC helps “by providing students with an understanding of the importance of physical activity and fostering skills that will enable them to be active for life.” Skills include basics such as running and leaping, progressing to batting, catching fly balls, and perfecting the overhand throw. The EPEC products meet the requirements for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), an organization that sets and develops physical-education standards.
The cataloger’s battle against the bulge began with its Pledge More Active Play campaign in 2004. “It was a simple concept,” explains Hy Schwartz, S&S’s vice president of business development. If educators gave the company the first names of 50 kids who had pledged to be more active, they received a pedometer for use at school, a framed certificate, and access to an online congratulatory video. Teachers also received deep discounts on purchases of pedometers from S&S, which in turn used the promotion to grow its house file.
Schwartz says the Pledge More Active Play campaign was a response to company research and observations that the country was gradually waking up to the importance of physical fitness and the growing obesity epidemic. “Ten or 12 years ago, you had states cutting back or eliminating altogether some physical-education programs,” he says.
But now the fitness pendulum is swinging in the other direction, and schools are more concerned with getting kids moving again. The EPEC curriculum kits have been so successful, Schwartz credits them with contributing to a 10% rise in year-over-year sales of phys-ed and fitness products.
And the company is teaming up with more organizations in its fight against childhood obesity. Last summer S&S partnered with Blacksburg, VA-based PE Central, an online community for teachers, to become its sole sponsor. A link on the PE Central home page directs educators to the Website for S&S’s Discount Sports catalog. In exchange for the sponsorship and resulting Website traffic, S&S shares with PE Central a portion of sales driven from the site.
According to Schwartz, the company’s efforts in this arena is in keeping with S&S’s altruism and that of its clientele, who include physical and recreational therapists and child-care professionals.
“It’s in our company history,” Schwartz says. “Our customers have chosen to help people. They’re not in it for the money.”
Founded 100 years ago as S&S Leather, the company helped employ disabled World War I veterans by supplying them with leather remnants for do-it-yourself kits to make comb cases, wallets, and small purses. By the 1960s the company had expanded its product line to sell crafts and supplies to camps, municipalities, and institutions; today it distributes more than 12 million catalogs through 12 titles to schools, hospitals, governmental agencies, and religious institutions.
The competition in the phys-ed products market is “savage,” Schwartz says. For example, when it partnered with PE Central, it replaced competitor FlagHouse as the Website’s sole sponsor. “We saw an opportunity that aligned with our mission,” Schwartz says, “and we went for it.”