A Focus on Solutions During National Childhood Obesity Month
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one out of every three children are overweight or obese in America today. A full third of our country’s children are at significant risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other avoidable ailments. Fortunately, this startling trend can be reversed. September is National Childhood Obesity Month and we’d like to do our part by focusing on the solutions available to families and communities everywhere.
Healthy Living Through Play
A well-designed playground compels children to involve themselves in extensive physical exploration. Playground equipment encourages a variety of physical activities that engage every muscle group. While climbing bars, crossing rope bridges, manipulating interactive features, and getting to the top of a slide, children are also improving balance, increasing physical dexterity, and giving themselves a fun-filled dose of cardiovascular exercise. The benefits of such significant healthy activity extends throughout the life of a child. It is now recommended that children take part in at least 60-minutes of physical activity every day. A strong argument for making a daily visit to the local playground a part of every family’s routine.
Benefits Beyond Physical Health
Taking turns, assisting other children in reaching a goal, demonstrating self-restraint, participating in group decision making, developing self-confidence, exercising creativity, encouraging imaginative approaches to problem solving; the emotional, social, and intellectual benefits of regular play cannot be overstated. A well-designed playground full of interactive equipment that challenges children as much as it invites them to play accelerates development on multiple fronts. Brain development in a child’s first six-years of life is particularly important. The more young children can explore their world through motor activities and multiple sensory experiences, the more neural connections the brain creates. Beyond the significant benefits to physical health, those children with the opportunity to regularly visit their community’s playground can demonstrate a pronounced developmental advantage over their peers.
Taking Advantage of Play Opportunities
Providing children with 60-minutes of play activity every day may take some practice. Just like the building of any healthy habit, success should look like a series of smaller-steps leading towards a larger goal. Begin with a simple family walk after dinner, and see if you might be able to include an additional family in the neighborhood. Enroll your children in a sports activity that practices at the local park, and bring their sibling to play on the playground during practice. Take a class with friends, to both develop new skills and demonstrate to your children the importance of staying active as an adult. Participate in activities organized by local community centers and faith-based organizations. Write specific activities into the family calendar to emphasize their importance and to keep the whole family on track. Again, building on each small change helps create a habit of healthy activity, and increases the significant benefits of regular play as well.
Increasing Access to High Quality Playgrounds
Childhood obesity remains an epidemic. One of the most cost-effective measures we can take to reverse this trend is to build more playgrounds. Anyone can start by initiating a conversation on play opportunities in their own community. Simply talking with other parents can quickly build momentum. There are multiple stakeholders in every neighborhood that can serve as allies in an effort to increase access to playground equipment. Local business owners, faith-based and community-based organizations, childcare facilities, school officials, elected representatives, and many others can effectively work together to both create and extend the use of community playgrounds. Working together, we can create stronger and healthier communities and provide our children with the skills and abilities to succeed throughout their lives.