Problem Solver - August 2010
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Fighting Obesity on the Playground


he news about childhood obesity is finally sinking in. A recent poll by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that 80 percent of Americans recognize that childhood obesity is a significant and growing challenge for the country, and 50 percent of Americans believe it is such an important issue that we need to invest more immediately to prevent it.

But while childhood obesity makes a lot of news, we also need to pay attention to obesity and overweight among adults. The good news is that you can tackle both problems at the same time—with careful attention to your playground and park elements.

Q: We want to help in the fight against obesity. Is there something we can do to get children more active on the playground?

A: You're right to want to help kids get active. Research shows that nearly one-third of children and teens are obese or overweight, with more than 12 million children and adolescents currently considered obese. Getting them active can be as simple as focusing on the playground elements you include in your parks. Children love to swing, jump, slide and climb. When you install playgrounds that encourage them to get moving, you'll be helping them exercise without even realizing they're getting a full-body workout.

Challenging play systems are available that keep kids moving. Look for elements that develop multiple motor skills, like overhead climbers for building upper-body strength, bridges that build balancing skills and climbing walls that develop the whole body and mind.

But don't stop there. Never underestimate the power of a parent setting a good example. If you want children to increase their activity, parents will need to be involved, too.

Q: How can I get parents more involved in boosting their kids' activity levels?

A: The answer is simple. Get the parents active, too.

Childhood obesity rates may be alarming, but obesity rates among adults are no better. Adult obesity rates increased in 28 states in the past year according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. More than two-thirds of states have adult obesity rates above 25 percent. This is a drastic increase, considering that just 20 years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent.

Reducing obesity at all ages involves many steps, but you can be part of the solution when you encourage healthy activity at your sites.

First of all, encourage parents to set an example. Consider including additional elements near the playground that allow parents to get a workout while they watch their kids at play. You can find outdoor exercise equipment that is specifically designed to fit in with your playground and park setting.

Parents will thank you when you give them something to do at the playground other than sit on a bench. They'll be able to work their entire body, and the kids will see their example of continuing to engage in healthy, fun activities throughout their lives.

Consider including a wide variety of fitness elements near the playground. They can offer a wide range of activities, from cardio exercise to strength-building and stretching stations.

You might also consider incorporating a trail, where participants can walk from station to station, boosting their calorie-burning potential even further.


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