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Feature Article - September 2010

Kids Get Active

After-School Programs to the Rescue

By Deborah L. Vence


Is there such a thing as "recess" anymore? Recess, well, at least it used to be, the highlight of the school day. The bell would ring sometime after lunch, and all the children would dash out the school doors to engage in some form of playground amusement for 15 minutes, like playing tag, jumping rope or playing ball.

Unfortunately, this longstanding tradition is fading fast as more schools across the country are choosing to do away with recess as well as physical education classes, in some cases, in order to further children's academic achievement because of stricter educational requirements or simply because they don't have the money to keep PE teachers because of budget cuts.

Consequently, as traditional gym classes take a back seat and recess time is cut, the problem of childhood obesity carries on.

The fact is that childhood obesity in the United States has tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children ages 6 to 11 years old increased from 6.5 percent in 1980 to 19.6 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, the prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5 percent to 18.1 percent during those years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site.

Interestingly enough, part of the problem, experts believe, can be attributed to a lack of convenience to parks and recreation facilities. The point being that the closer children are to parks and recreation, the greater the chance they have at being leaner and healthier.

The Facts

For example, a 2009 study titled, "Childhood Obesity and Proximity to Urban Parks and Recreational Resources: A Longitudinal Cohort Study," by San Diego-based Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) that supports research to identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity with a focus on active living related to youth in low-income and high-risk communities, proves that the proximity to parks and recreation resources has a lot to do with childhood obesity.

"The [close] proximity to both parks and public recreation [facilities] was associated with less weight gain over time," said Dr. James F. Sallis, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and director of Active Living Research.