Problem Solver - August 2009
Find a printable version here

Fighting Childhood Obesity on the Playground

According to the most recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the percentage of obese and overweight children is at or above 30 percent in 30 states. And the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the proportion of overweight children between 6 and 11 years old has more than doubled since 1980. Obesity puts children's health at risk, increasing their risk of developing chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and more. Experts have warned that if action is not taken, today's children may be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents.

Whether you're a park district director, a school district administrator, a daycare facility manager or you serve in one of many other roles that can impact children's access to and enthusiasm for fitness activities, it's wise to investigate as many options for getting kids moving as possible. And there's one thing many have realized: It's much easier to get anyone—kid or adult—active and exercising if that exercise seems more like fun than work.

Q: How can I make an investment in our children and help get them active?

A: Getting kids active can go far beyond providing physical education classes and park district programming focused on exercise. Have you ever watched kids on the playground? They love to swing, jump, slide, climb and more. And when you invest in playgrounds that encourage these activities, you'll be offering them a way to get more active without even realizing they're getting a full-body and mental workout!

Challenging play systems are available to help children develop physically, mentally, socially and more. Consider the traditional elements like slides, climbers, overhead challenges and more to encourage interaction and activity.

Q: We've got playgrounds, but the kids have lost interest. How can we encourage them to come back and get active again?

A: Sliding, swinging and climbing are great ways to help kids build muscles, but once it's been around a while, you might want to expand into play elements that offer more opportunities to work the body—and the mind. Some manufacturers have gone beyond traditional play elements to develop new products and programs that specifically aim to get children active.

One manufacturer, for example, has developed a fitness program that incorporates the President's Challenge, a nationwide physical activity and fitness program that targets school-age children. The program recognizes students for their fitness in five areas and rewards them for meeting qualifications.

You can add events to your playground that target these five fitness areas: cardiovascular fitness, muscle endurance, muscle strength, flexibility and body composition.

By incorporating these healthy elements into your playground, you'll extend the fun and the fitness!

Q: Are there programs available to help our school get a new playground?

A: Manufacturers offer many ways to help you raise funds to build your new playground. From trade-in programs to leasing programs and more, they provide many paths to getting your playground built. One manufacturer has even developed grants for schools to help them get their playgrounds installed.

In addition, you can raise awareness—and funds—in your community. Talk to your local newspaper about how playgrounds can help fight this problem. Encourage parents, community groups and local businesses to get involved. Your local health care providers might also be a great resource in raising funds to help build your playground.

Q: What else should we consider?

A: In addition to looking for playground equipment that provides a physical challenge, there are some other key considerations. Ensure your playground equipment meets current safety standards and is ADA compliant. It's also important to stay aware of changes to these standards and laws. Depending on how old your existing equipment is, it's possible that it may no longer be compliant with current safety standards or ADA laws. You can ask your playground equipment provider for the most up-to-date information.

Miracle Recreation, a Division of PlayPower: