We all know the statistics on the obesity epidemic in this country and the countless efforts to reduce obesity rates, but what is working and what isn’t? The American Heart Association (AHA) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) recently launched Voices for Healthy Kids, a national advocacy initiative focused on uniting the movement to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015. This is certainly an ambitious goal, but cities and states across the country have already started seeing signs of progress, and we know many local park and recreation agencies have made significant contributions to these efforts. This movement will focus on what has worked well in areas where obesity rates have fallen and expand those efforts nationwide to ensure that all children benefit from this progress, especially those living in underserved communities.
AHA and RWJF have identified six priority areas:
- Improving the nutritional quality of snack foods and beverages in schools;
- Reducing consumption of sugary beverages;
- Protecting children from unhealthy food and beverage marketing;
- Increasing access to affordable healthy foods;
- Increasing access to parks, playgrounds, walking paths, bike lanes and other opportunities to be physically active; and
- Helping schools and youth-serving programs to increase children’s physical-activity levels.
NRPA supports these priority areas and is particularly excited about the focus on increasing access to parks and playgrounds, and increasing opportunities for children to be physically active.
We know that people who live in close proximity to parks or recreational facilities exercise more than those who do not. Local park and recreation agencies can continue to help improve this access by working with schools, transportation agencies, planners and community-based organizations to maximize access through joint-use agreements. Read more about recommended joint-use agreement policy priorities that you can promote in your community.
Additionally, changes in the built environment, such as improved bicycle/pedestrian paths, promote active living and increase physical activity levels in communities. One study has shown that for every dollar invested in trails, nearly $3 in medical cost savings can be achieved. Local park and recreation agencies are playing a significant role in communities in determining and improving the built environment. Read more about recommended policy priorities that promote active and livable communities that you can advocate for in your community.
Local park and recreation agencies have played a vital role in helping to reverse the obesity epidemic in many communities, but there is more work to be done! Increased access to parks and recreational facilities is part of the solution. Today, nearly 23.5 million children and teens are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other conditions associated with heart disease and stroke. We must all work together to reverse the obesity epidemic. Get involved and support Voices for Healthy Kids by promoting a recommended policy priority area in your community. Click here to learn more and join in.
Kellie May is NRPA's Program Manager.