Problem Solver - August 2007
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Adding Creative Solutions for Childhood Obesity

With ever-increasing rates of childhood obesity, we'd like to add some creative options to our facility to help address the problem.

It's easy to understand how children gain weight: Fast-food restaurants entice kids with toys and gimmicks at every turn, and entertainment options like television, computers and video games suck away hours of play time that could be spent outdoors doing something active. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are more than 9 million children ages 6 to 19 who are considered overweight. In addition, the number of elementary-aged children considered obese has doubled since 1980, from 7 percent to 14 percent.

Knowing how to help combat childhood obesity is actually pretty logical: Build fun play spaces that encourage movement, and kids will come, and when they get there, they'll have fun getting fit as well as learning healthy habits for the future. In fact, the CDC now recommends that children ages 5 to 16 get at least an hour and a half of physical activity a day. So, if your goal is to be part of the solution to the worrisome problem of childhood obesity in America, then your recreational facility should provide plenty of opportunities for kids to be active without even realizing they're exercising. Structures like climbing walls, slides, swings and workout areas are all great items to include in your plans.

Playground equipment manufacturers now offer such a wide variety of play elements that you can be sure there's something available for everyone at your park. Elaborate new two- and three-level playground systems create hundreds of stimulating events for children with components like curvy slides, tube slides, play panels, crawl tubes and more. You might go with a themed play structure like a spaceship or coordinate the many colors available with your landscaping or other buildings at the facility. The various levels give it more interest for children, especially ages 5 to 12, because they can climb up and look down on the playground below. Plus, climbing to these new heights boosts kids' activity level, so while they're exploring new territory, they're also challenging themselves physically.

Kids don't need to be running or engaged in a high level of activity the whole time they're playing, but you can rest knowing they'll simply be more active on your playgrounds than if they were sitting inside doing nothing. Plus, the benefits of outdoor recreation go beyond burning calories and strengthening kids' hearts. As the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association points out, through play children also learn reflexes and movement control, develop fine and gross motor skills, increase flexibility and balancing skills, and learn to walk, run, jump, throw, climb, slide and swing. All of these activities help to improve cardiovascular health, as well as help to maintain healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels. Creating a playground structure at your facility that attracts children goes a long way to helping reduce the negative trend of childhood obesity.

Little Tikes Commercial, a Division of PlayPower Inc.: