In conjunction with the increase in funding for the Physical Education for Progress (PEP) program, reported last month, officials in Washington have taken giant steps in fostering fitness awareness in the nation’s capital.For example, on February 13, Congressman Zach Wamp, R-Tennessee, and Congressman Mark Udall, D-Colorado, implored fellow members of the House of Representatives to join them in the new bipartisan Congressional Fitness Caucus, a monthly breakfast meeting during which concerned lawmakers discuss ways to promote physical activity and healthy living among their constituents across the country. “Everyone can benefit from exercise, regardless of age or fitness level...I challenge all members of Congress to lead by example, be more physically active and encourage Americans to build healthy habits,” Udall said. Another government figure concerned with the declining fitness of Americans is Surgeon General Richard Carmona. He is particularly concerned about the lack of conditioning among law enforcement officers, firefighters and others charged with physically protecting the public. A former police officer, Carmona was disappointed when, because of liability risk, many public safety departments eliminated their minimum physical fitness standards a few years ago; many of his peers neglected to exercise. “They didn’t stay in physical condition to be out on the streets. And the risk that you entertain is not only for yourself and being not prepared to respond to that worst-case scenario call but also the potential harm that you put your fellow officers [in] because you’re not physically able to respond appropriately,” he said. Carmona added that the stress inherent in public safety professions has been shown to cause hormonal changes that foster the accumulation of fat around the waist, associated with increases in the incidence of hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. He even cited data indicating that heart attacks due to overexertion or stress were responsible for 40 percent of all firefighter deaths in 2001. Moreover, Carmona believes that these professionals should care about their fitness because of their status as role models. “The uniform says you’re a leader,” he said.