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San Diego Padres, concessionaire team up with fitness plan

What could be perceived as more American than watching a baseball game on a hot summer afternoon, devouring a thick brat covered with mustard and sauerkraut, and chasing it down with a cold beer or soft drink?

Well, how about this: watching the game while consuming Mandarin salad or a fruit and yogurt parfait. Laugh you may, but the all-American pastime is changing shape as more American adults and children try to get in—or stay in—good physical condition. Now a growing number of stadiums are offering more healthful foods not just in private clubs and upscale restaurants, but at concession stands, too.

One notable change is taking place at PETCO Park, home of the San Diego Padres baseball team, where Delaware North Cos.’ Sportservice division, the ball-park’s foodservice concessionaire, has added or upgraded menu items to feature improved nutrition and availability of more healthful foods. As part of the upgrade, 10 new items, including yogurt parfaits, fresh fruit, salads, hummus with pita chips, turkey wraps, and veggie burgers and hot dogs, have been added.

The healthier menu is part of a collaboration between Sportservice, the Padres and The California Endowment, a private statewide health foundation. The groups recently teamed up to form Friarfit, a fitness initiative.

The collaboration came about because San Diego is currently in bad shape. According to The California Endowment, a recent analysis of the California Physical Fitness Test given to students in San Diego County revealed that one in four of those students—approximately 175,000 kids—is over-weight and, as a result, at risk to develop chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, orthopedic problems and gallstones.

In addition, they are more prone to develop low self-esteem issues and suffer from depression, endowment officials indicate. They also say rising obesity rates have resulted in additional billions of dollars being spent on related medical care in the state.

“Wellness must focus on prevention, but wellness programs are a long-term solution,” said Jeff Okey, a spokesman for The California Endowment. “We’re partnering in this project with the Padres and Delaware North because we all must work together to make an impact on obesity. Everyone is part of the solution.”

Rolf Baumann, Sportservice’s corporate chef, said menu items with fewer calories and fat make up about 5 percent of concession sales at PETCO Park. The primary consumers are both male and female and generally 35 years or older. He adds that parents who watch their diets tend to encourage their kids to select more healthful items.

“Usually, the last thing on most people’s minds is to eat healthy at a ballpark, but we can make sure there is a choice,” he said.

In addition to the menu upgrade, Friarfit is featuring Instant Recess, a fitness break for kids and adults held at the ballpark every Sunday afternoon before home games. Kids and Padres employees who attend Instant Recess receive customized pedometers to track their activity levels. Other initiatives also are underway.

When the collaboration began, baseball hall of famer Dave Winfield, the Padres vice president and senior advisor, put forth a challenge: “We want San Diego to become one of the healthiest and most fit cities in Major League Baseball, all professional sports, and America. We want to become a model of excellence that others will emulate.”

Hopefully, other ball clubs and food-service providers will respond, pitching in to remake the all-American experience at ballparks and, in time, reshape America.

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