“We’re here for the kids. We’re here to get them off the couches, to get them working out and doing a little something,” says Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson who helped lead the recent “Live Positively: Get the Ball Rolling” event sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company and the Baltimore Ravens. “It’s important to keep them active and healthy. Get them going. Get their legs moving and their lungs open.”

More than 150 kids from local schools, after-school programs, churches and Cub Scouts attended the recent youth fitness event held at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. Boys and girls ages 12 to 15 could be seen running, high-kneeing, shuffling, jumping, catching, kicking, throwing and playing as they executed high-energy, high-impact drills lead by Dickson and Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta.

A Commitment to Fitness

“Live Positively: Get the Ball Rolling,” now in its third year, is a Coca-Cola initiative designed to educate youth about the importance of living a healthy lifestyle through proper exercise and nutrition. Each event is held through a partnership with professional sports teams across the country.

The October event marked the start of a new 10-year agreement between the Baltimore Ravens and Coke, in which both parties look for ways to reach into the community to promote youth fitness and well-being. Other area organizations were also involved in the recent clinic, including the Baltimore National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Baltimore Police Athletic League.

“At Coca-Cola, one of the things we do is encourage both our employees and consumers to live positively,” says Dori Silverman, area vice president of region marketing for Coca-Cola North America. “It’s an expression of who we are, what we do, and why we have been striving for decades to make a positive difference in the lives of our consumers and the communities in which we live, work and play.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), America’s childhood obesity rate has almost tripled over the past 30 years. In 2010 approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 were obese. Overweight and obese kids are at greater risk of developing serious health problems as adults, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.

The Benefits of Star Power

Educating kids — and adults for that matter — on the importance of making healthy choices can be something of a hard sell. But a bit of hero worship can go a long way in helping a young person pay attention to the message. D’Jah Mack, 13, an aspiring football player who’s played middle linebacker for a local team for two years had been looking forward to the event for a while. “I’m from Baltimore. The Ravens are my favorite team!” Mack exclaims.

Pitta says it's young fans like Mack who encourage him to set a good example. “As a professional football player, as a Baltimore Raven, obviously kids look up to you,” he explains. “If you can come out and affect them in a positive way and help them to understand just a little bit of why exercising and eating right is important, then that’s what makes it all worth it.”

The participants also had the opportunity to hear helpful eating tips from the Baltimore Ravens team nutritionist and youth camp coordinator.

Thirteen-year-old Kyree Bryant, a noted Pittsburgh Steelers fan, admits that had it not been for the Ravens — one of his team’s biggest rivals — he’d be at home on the couch. “I thank the Baltimore Ravens for coming out here and doing this,” says Bryant, “because a lot of kids out here nowadays are just sitting in the house playing video games.”

Impacting Communities

“Get the Ball Rolling” has been held with all five sports teams in Washington, D.C., as well as the New York Rangers and Boston Red Sox.

But at this event, it was all about the local football team. Ravens president Dick Cass was on hand for the two-hour fitness clinic and noted that, “We’re very proud to partner with Coca-Cola to bring this great program to the city of Baltimore,” says Cass. “Youth obesity is a major, major health issue in this country, and anything we can do to fight that problem is good for the city and good for us.”