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Dr. J. on Running

Komen Foundation Research Grants

Running Helps Youth

Published October 25, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The caller identified her affiliation as the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Research. She had responded to my inquiry about submitting a proposal for one of their community grants from the proceeds of the Race for the Cure. Our conversation started on the wrong foot when she heard the premise of my plan, and it went downhill from there.

Our dialog went something like this:

"Our grants are only available to not-for-profit organizations working with screening and early detection programs," she said.

"What about prevention?" I asked.

"We achieve prevention through early detection," she said. This logic escapes me, I must admit.

"Would you fund a running program for children at high risk of developing breast cancer?" I asked.

"We do not fund youth recreation programs," she replied.

"Would the likelihood of funding improve if we focused on the children of breast cancer patients?"

"Maybe, but we have to make sure it does not get out of hand," she said.

"Since research shows that the majority of breast cancer cases have no family history of the disease, could we focus on environmental factors in neighborhoods with high incidence?" I asked.

"We expect the Onondaga County breast cancer mapping project to give us this information," she said.

"Great! So, if the data identified a district with a high incidence of breast cancer, would you consider funding an experimental running program in its elementary schools?"

"I already said that we do not fund recreation programs," she said.

As the dialog continued in vain, I realized the futility of my attempts to reason the obvious: given a proven link between the environment and the disease, one may logically assume that reshaping the environment may reduce the incidence of disease.

The idea of creating running programs in elementary schools is not new. Besides keeping children away from food and television for half an hour each day, regular exercise may be the only true prevention of disease.

The cost of instituting a running program at an elementary school is indeed modest. Coaches are usually teachers who accept the task of running with kids for a nominal honorarium. Unlike other sports, running requires no special facilities or extensive equipment.

A running program requires no special transportation arrangements either. Most schools can implement such a program in the morning as children await the start of classes. Alternatively, children may run in the last half-hour of the day, before riding the buses home.

A proposal to establish a pilot running program would include a modest budget for a coach, usually a few hundred dollars per month, and good running shoes.

The potential flaw in my plan may be the proposed source of funding. I oppose financing such programs through taxes.

This is where I see an opportunity for the Komen Foundation to play a proactive role. For an organization that exploits running to raise money, here is an opportunity to return the favor and explore the power of running in preventing breast cancer.

Before taking on the task of funding youth running programs, the Komen Foundation must weigh the potential risks of such an experiment. At best, a decline in breast cancer attributed to physical fitness may give true hope to prevent disease. At worst, if a long-term study of youth runners shows no change in breast cancer rates, then the Komen Foundation will stand accused of financing a generation of fit, drug-free, self-confident teen-agers.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains TrackMeets.com, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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